New Deepsea Mountains Over 2,680 Meters Tall Discovered By Gravity Anomalies

Four underwater mountains have been discovered in the Pacific, one of which towers for 2,681 meters (8,796 feet) – that’s over three times the height of the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest skyscraper

The collection of seamounts was identified last month by Schmidt Ocean Institute’s research vessel Falkor (too) while making a voyage between Golfito in Costa Rica and Valparaiso in Chile. 

The four seamounts range in size from approximately 1,591 meters (5,220 feet) to 2,681 meters (8,796 feet). 

This revelation builds on a discovery made by the same crew last year. In November 2023, the Falkor (too) research vessel stumbled across an underwater mountain that was twice the height of the Burj Khalifa at 1,600 meters (5,259 feet) in international waters off Guatemala.

The largest of the four seamounts recently discovered by Schmidt Ocean Institute experts is 2,681 meters (8,796 feet) tall.
Image credit: Schmidt Ocean Institute

The seamounts were located by measuring gravity anomalies within the sea. Structures on the seafloor have a very slight impact on the sea surface: a vast underwater trench will cause a minor dip in the sea surface, while a mountain of significant stature will cause the water surface to bulge.

“We were fortunate enough to be able to plan an opportunistic mapping route using these gravity anomalies in satellite altimetry data,” John Fulmer, a marine technician and a hydrographic expert at Schmidt Ocean Institute, said in a statement sent to IFLScience.

“Examining gravity anomalies is a fancy way of saying we looked for bumps on a map, and when we did, we located these very large seamounts while staying on schedule for our first science expedition in Chile at the start of this year,” said Fulmer.

A seamount is an underwater mountain with steep sides that are typically the remnants of extinct volcanoes. These fascinating features often become hives of biodiversity since they provide wildlife with a solid surface to live upon, supplying them with food and nutrients.

“Locating seamounts almost always leads us to understudied biodiversity hotspots,” explains Dr Jyotika Virmani, executive director of Schmidt Ocean Institute. 

“Every time we find these bustling seafloor communities, we make incredible new discoveries and advance our knowledge of life on Earth,” Virmani added.

The Schmidt Ocean Institute’s research vessel Falkor (too) sailing the high seas.
Image credit: Schmidt Ocean Institute

Seamounts can be vast in size. Technically, the highest mountain on Earth is a partially submerged seamount: Hawai’i’s Mauna Kea, a dormant volcano that is more than 10,210 meters (33,500 feet) tall. By comparison, Mount Everest is just 8,849 meters (29,032 feet) tall.

The new seamount discovery is a small part of a much bigger project to map the whole world’s seafloor. Since 2013, Schmidt Ocean Institute has mapped over 1.44 million square kilometers (around 500,000 square miles) of the seafloor, creating a map of almost 25 percent of the seafloor at a 100-meter (328-foot) or higher resolution. 

By the end of this decade, they hope to have mapped the totality of the seafloor, all 360 million square kilometers (139 million square miles) of it.

“These incredible discoveries by Schmidt Ocean Institute underscore the importance of a complete map of the seabed in our quest for understanding Earth’s final frontier,” continued Jamie McMichael-Phillips, project director of Seabed 2030

“With 75 percent of the ocean still to be mapped, there is much to be uncovered. Ocean mapping is crucial to our understanding of the planet and, in turn, our ability to ensure its protection and sustainable management,” he said.

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