Scientists have discovered a “lost world” of stunning volcanic peaks buried under the Tasman Sea.
The chain of volcanic seamounts, underwater mountains that were formed by ancient, extinct volcanoes, was discovered by scientists aboard the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation research vessel Investigator.
In news release published by CSIRO, scientists said that the mountains rise up to 3,000 meters from the seafloor about 400 kilometers east of Tasmania. The highest peaks tower nearly 2,000 meters below the surface.
The seamounts also vary in size and shape. Some have sharp peaks while the others feature wide flat plateaus with small conical hills that may have been formed by ancient volcanic activities.
Despite their towering heights, the peaks have never been detected until now. Tara Martin, from the CSIRO mapping team, credited multibeam mapping for unveiling in vibrant details the hidden volcanic seamounts. The researchers used sonars to map the seamounts in high resolution.
Martin told ABC News that the seamounts that they found were likely related to the breakup of Antarctica and Australia some 30 million years ago.
“As Australia and Antarctica and Tasmania all broke up, a big hotspot came in under the earth’s crust, made these volcanoes, and then helped the Earth’s crust break so that all of those areas could start to drift apart,” Martin said.
Martin also said that the seamounts tell a great deal about how the earth formed and how various crusts have moved around and strongly influenced the movement of ocean currents.
Martin and colleagues also observed that the area is teeming with marine life such as humpback and long-finned pilot whales, which they observed approaching the ship while their vessel was over the chain of seamounts.
“We estimated that at least 28 individual humpback whales visited us on one day, followed by a pod of 60-80 long-finned pilot whales the next,” said Eric Woehler from BirdLife Tasmania, who was also aboard the research vessel to study seabirds and marine life.
“We also saw large numbers of seabirds in the area including four species of albatross and four species of petrel.”
The researchers think that the seamounts serve as an important stopping point for some migratory animals, especially whales that may use the undersea features to help them with their navigation as they travel from their winter breeding grounds to summer feeding grounds.
More surveys will be conducted in the area during upcoming research voyages set for November and December.