Scientists discover an enormous underwater mountain off the coast of Guatemala

Researchers mapping the seafloor off the coast of Guatemala have stumbled upon a massive seamount or underwater mountain.

The seamount is 5,249 feet (1,600 meters), which means it is nearly twice as high as the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building at an impressive 2,722 feet.

Scientists from the Schmidt Ocean Institute (SOI) discovered the underwater mountain using a multi-beam echosounder on the Falkor research vessel.

Wendy Schmidt, co-founder and president of the SOI, said that during every expedition, researchers on the Falkor research vessel “have found the unexpected, the awe-inspiring, the new.”

She added that while these discoveries help them learn more about the ocean and the aquatic life thriving in it, there is still a lot to learn and researchers “are thrilled to continue exploring.”

The researchers reported that the seamount covers at least 5.4 square miles (14 square kilometers) and sits 7,874 feet (2,400 m) below sea level.

The team discovered the underwater mountain by accident while they were on a six-day crossing during the summer from Puntarenas, Costa Rica, towards the East Pacific Rise.

Dr. Jyotika Virmani, executive director of the institute, explained that “a seamount taller than 1.5 km tall which has, until now, been hidden under the waves,” emphasizes that there are still many secrets in the ocean that remain undiscovered.

“A complete seafloor map is a fundamental element of understanding our ocean, so it’s exciting to be living in an era where technology allows us to map and see these amazing parts of our planet for the first time,” added Virmani. (Related: “Pyramid” discovered beneath the ice in Antarctica is actually a mountain.)

What are seamounts?

A seamount is an underwater mountain with steep sides rising from the seafloor.

Many seamounts are remnants of extinct volcanoes. These underwater volcanoes are usually cone-shaped, but they also tend to have other prominent features such as craters and linear ridges.

Some, called guyots, have large, flat summits. Compared to the peaked shape of seamounts, guyots have a flat top like a table.

While all guyots were a seamount in the past, not all seamounts will become guyots.

There is a broad size distribution for seamounts. However, to be classified as a seamount, the feature must have a vertical relief of at least 3,300 feet (1,000 meters) above the surrounding seafloor.

Seamounts are found in every world ocean basin. While there is no data on the precise number of seamounts, they are numerous.

According to data from satellite altimetry and bathymetric mapping data obtained from survey ships, the number of seamounts that are at least 1,000 meters high is thought to be greater than 100,000.

But despite their abundance, less than one-tenth of a percent of the seamounts in the world have been studied.

Studies suggest that seamounts function as “oases of life,” with higher species diversity and biomass discovered on underwater mountains and in the waters around it compared to the flat seafloor.

Seamounts rise high in the water column, resulting in complex current patterns influencing what lives on and above them. Seamounts also provide a substrate or a location for attachment where organisms can settle and grow.

These organisms then provide a food source for other aquatic animals. Researchers have discovered that seamounts usually provide habitat to endemic species or species found only in a single location.

Because seamounts are biodiversity hotspots, the newly discovered underwater mountain could be one of many.

Since 2013, the SOI has successfully mapped 555,9871 square miles (44 million square kilometers) of the ocean floor. While mapping the ocean floor, researchers have also found more than 20 underwater features.

Even though the research vessel was only launched in March, Falkor has been behind nine discoveries, including:

  • A new ecosystem underneath hydrothermal vents
  • Two pristine cold-water coral reefs
  • Two unchartered seamounts in the Galapagos Islands Marine Reserve
  • Three new hydrothermal vent fields

The SOI is a partner of the Seabed 2030 initiative, which aims to map the entire seafloor by the end of the decade. The institute’s work will help experts learn more about the topography of the oceans and help vessels navigate more safely.

“The absence of detailed underwater topography, or bathymetric data, hinders the ability to safely navigate vessels at sea, manage marine resources sustainably, and safeguard coastal communities,” concluded the SOI.

Visit to read more articles about fascinating discoveries by land and sea.

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