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Marine habitats
SeamontDavidson expedition bathymetric-2002.jpg
Bathymetric mapping of part of Davidson Seamount. The dots indicate significant coral nurseries.

A seamount is a mountain rising from the ocean floor that does not reach to the water's surface (sea level), and thus is not an island, islet or cliff-rock. Seamounts are typically formed from extinct volcanoes that rise abruptly and are usually found rising from the seafloor to 1,000–4,000 m (3,300–13,100 ft) in height. They are defined by oceanographers as independent features that rise to at least 1,000 m (3,281 ft) above the seafloor, characteristically of conical form. [1] The peaks are often found hundreds to thousands of meters below the surface, and are therefore considered to be within the deep sea. [2] During their evolution over geologic time, the largest seamounts may reach the sea surface where wave action erodes the summit to form a flat surface. After they have subsided and sunk below the sea surface such flat-top seamounts are called "guyots" or "tablemounts". [1]

Mountain A large landform that rises fairly steeply above the surrounding land over a limited area

A mountain is a large landform that rises above the surrounding land in a limited area, usually in the form of a peak. A mountain is generally steeper than a hill. Mountains are formed through tectonic forces or volcanism. These forces can locally raise the surface of the earth. Mountains erode slowly through the action of rivers, weather conditions, and glaciers. A few mountains are isolated summits, but most occur in huge mountain ranges.

Sea level Average level for the surface of the ocean at any given geographical position on the planetary surface

Mean sea level (MSL) is an average level of the surface of one or more of Earth's bodies of water from which heights such as elevation may be measured. The global MSL is a type of vertical datum – a standardised geodetic datum – that is used, for example, as a chart datum in cartography and marine navigation, or, in aviation, as the standard sea level at which atmospheric pressure is measured to calibrate altitude and, consequently, aircraft flight levels. A common and relatively straightforward mean sea-level standard is instead the midpoint between a mean low and mean high tide at a particular location.

Island Any piece of sub-continental land that is surrounded by water

An island or isle is any piece of sub-continental land that is surrounded by water. Very small islands such as emergent land features on atolls can be called islets, skerries, cays or keys. An island in a river or a lake island may be called an eyot or ait, and a small island off the coast may be called a holm. A grouping of geographically or geologically related islands, such as the Philippines, is referred to as an archipelago.


There are more than 14,500 seamounts, [3] of which 9,951 seamounts and 283 guyots, covering a total of 8,796,150 km2 (3,396,210 sq mi) have been mapped [4] but only a few have been studied in detail by scientists. Seamounts and guyots are most abundant in the North Pacific Ocean, and follow a distinctive evolutionary pattern of eruption, build-up, subsidence and erosion. In recent years, several active seamounts have been observed, for example Loihi in the Hawaiian Islands.

Lōʻihi Seamount An active submarine volcano off the southeast coast of the island of Hawaii

Lōihi Seamount is an active submarine volcano about 35 km (22 mi) off the southeast coast of the island of Hawaii. The top of the seamount is about 975 m (3,000 ft) below sea level. This seamount is on the flank of Mauna Loa, the largest shield volcano on Earth. Lōihi, meaning "long" in Hawaiian, is the newest volcano in the Hawaiian–Emperor seamount chain, a string of volcanoes that stretches over 5,800 km (3,600 mi) northwest of Lōʻihi. Unlike most active volcanoes in the Pacific Ocean that make up the active plate margins on the Pacific Ring of Fire, Lōʻihi and the other volcanoes of the Hawaiian–Emperor seamount chain are hotspot volcanoes and formed well away from the nearest plate boundary. Volcanoes in the Hawaiian Islands arise from the Hawaii hotspot, and as the youngest volcano in the chain, Lōihi is the only Hawaiian volcano in the deep submarine preshield stage of development.

Hawaiian Islands An archipelago in the North Pacific Ocean, currently administered by the US state of Hawaii

The Hawaiian Islands are an archipelago of eight major islands, several atolls, numerous smaller islets, and seamounts in the North Pacific Ocean, extending some 1,500 miles from the island of Hawaiʻi in the south to northernmost Kure Atoll. Formerly the group was known to Europeans and Americans as the Sandwich Islands, a name chosen by James Cook in honor of the then First Lord of the Admiralty John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich. The contemporary name is derived from the name of the largest island, Hawaii Island.

Because of their abundance, seamounts are one of the most common marine ecosystems in the world. Interactions between seamounts and underwater currents, as well as their elevated position in the water, attract plankton, corals, fish, and marine mammals alike. Their aggregational effect has been noted by the commercial fishing industry, and many seamounts support extensive fisheries. There are ongoing concerns on the negative impact of fishing on seamount ecosystems, and well-documented cases of stock decline, for example with the orange roughy (Hoplostethus atlanticus). 95% of ecological damage is done by bottom trawling, which scrapes whole ecosystems off seamounts.

Marine ecosystem Ecosystem in saltwater environment

Marine ecosystems are the largest of Earth's aquatic ecosystems and are distinguished by waters that have a high salt content. These systems contrast with freshwater ecosystems, which have a lower salt content. Marine waters cover more than 70% of the surface of the Earth and account for more than 97% of Earth's water supply and 90% of habitable space on Earth. Marine ecosystems include nearshore systems, such as the salt marshes, mudflats, seagrass meadows, mangroves, rocky intertidal systems and coral reefs. They also extend outwards from the coast to include offshore systems, such as the surface ocean, pelagic ocean waters, the deep sea, oceanic hydrothermal vents, and the sea floor. Marine ecosystems are characterized by the biological community of organisms that they are associated with and their physical environment.

Plankton Organisms that live in the water column and are incapable of swimming against a current

Plankton are the diverse collection of organisms that live in large bodies of water and are unable to swim against a current. The individual organisms constituting plankton are called plankters. They provide a crucial source of food to many small and large aquatic organisms, such as bivalves, fish and whales.

Coral Marine invertebrates of the class Anthozoa

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Because of their large numbers, many seamounts remain to be properly studied, and even mapped. Bathymetry and satellite altimetry are two technologies working to close the gap. There have been instances where naval vessels have collided with uncharted seamounts; for example, Muirfield Seamount is named after the ship that struck it in 1973. However, the greatest danger from seamounts are flank collapses; as they get older, extrusions seeping in the seamounts put pressure on their sides, causing landslides that have the potential to generate massive tsunamis.

Bathymetry The study of underwater depth of lake or ocean floors

Bathymetry is the study of underwater depth of lake or ocean floors. In other words, bathymetry is the underwater equivalent to hypsometry or topography. The name comes from Greek βαθύς (bathus), "deep", and μέτρον (metron), "measure". Bathymetric charts are typically produced to support safety of surface or sub-surface navigation, and usually show seafloor relief or terrain as contour lines and selected depths (soundings), and typically also provide surface navigational information. Bathymetric maps may also use a Digital Terrain Model and artificial illumination techniques to illustrate the depths being portrayed. The global bathymetry is sometimes combined with topography data to yield a Global Relief Model. Paleobathymetry is the study of past underwater depths.

The Muirfield Seamount is a submarine mountain located in the Indian Ocean approximately 130 kilometres southwest of the Cocos (Keeling) Islands. The Cocos Islands are an Australian territory, and therefore the Muirfield Seamount is within Australia's Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). The Muirfield Seamount is a submerged archipelago, approximately 2.5 kilometres in diameter and 16–18 metres below the surface of the sea. A 1999 biological survey of the seamount performed by the Australian Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) revealed that the area is depauperate.

Extrusive rock

Extrusive rock refers to the mode of igneous volcanic rock formation in which hot magma from inside the Earth flows out (extrudes) onto the surface as lava or explodes violently into the atmosphere to fall back as pyroclastics or tuff.This is as opposed to intrusive rock formation, in which magma does not reach the surface.


Seamounts can be found in every ocean basin in the world, distributed extremely widely both in space and in age. A seamount is technically defined as an isolated rise in elevation of 1,000 m (3,281 ft) or more from the surrounding seafloor, and with a limited summit area, [5] of conical form. [1] There are more than 14,500 seamounts. [3] In addition to seamounts, there are more than 80,000 small knolls, ridges and hills less than 1,000 m in height in the world's oceans. [4]

Most seamounts are volcanic in origin, and thus tend to be found on oceanic crust near mid-ocean ridges, mantle plumes, and island arcs. Overall, seamount and guyot coverage is greatest as a proportion of seafloor area in the North Pacific Ocean, equal to 4.39% of that ocean region. The Arctic Ocean has only 16 seamounts and no guyots, and the Mediterranean and Black seas together have only 23 seamounts and 2 guyots. The 9,951 seamounts mapped cover an area of 8,088,550 km2 (3,123,010 sq mi). Seamounts have an average area of 790 km2 (310 sq mi), with the smallest seamounts found in the Arctic Ocean and the Mediterranean and Black Seas, whilst the largest mean seamount size occurs in the Indian Ocean 890 km2 (340 sq mi). The largest seamount has an area of 15,500 km2 (6,000 sq mi) and it occurs in the North Pacific. Guyots cover a total area of 707,600 km2 (273,200 sq mi) and have an average area of 2,500 km2 (970 sq mi), more than twice the average size of seamounts. Nearly 50% of guyot area and 42% of the number of guyots occur in the North Pacific Ocean, covering 342,070 km2 (132,070 sq mi). The largest three guyots are all in the North Pacific: the Kuko Guyot (estimated 24,600 km2 (9,500 sq mi)), Suiko Guyot (estimated 20,220 km2 (7,810 sq mi)) and the Pallada Guyot (estimated 13,680 km2 (5,280 sq mi)). [4]

Oceanic crust The uppermost layer of the oceanic portion of a tectonic plate

Oceanic crust is the uppermost layer of the oceanic portion of a tectonic plate. It is composed of the upper oceanic crust, with pillow lavas and a dike complex, and the lower oceanic crust, composed of troctolite, gabbro and ultramafic cumulates. The crust overlies the solidified and uppermost layer of the mantle. The crust and the solid mantle layer together constitute oceanic lithosphere.

Mid-ocean ridge An underwater mountain system formed by plate tectonic spreading

A mid-ocean ridge (MOR) is a seafloor mountain system formed by plate tectonics. It typically has a depth of ~ 2,600 meters (8,500 ft) and rises about two kilometers above the deepest portion of an ocean basin. This feature is where seafloor spreading takes place along a divergent plate boundary. The rate of seafloor spreading determines the morphology of the crest of the mid-ocean ridge and its width in an ocean basin. The production of new seafloor and oceanic lithosphere results from mantle upwelling in response to plate separation. The melt rises as magma at the linear weakness in the oceanic crust, and emerges as lava, creating new crust and lithosphere upon cooling. The Mid-Atlantic Ridge is a spreading center that bisects the North and South Atlantic basins; hence the origin of the name 'mid-ocean ridge'. Most oceanic spreading centers are not in the middle of their hosting ocean basis but regardless, are called mid-ocean ridges. Mid-ocean ridges around the globe are linked by plate tectonic boundaries and the outline of the ridges across the ocean floor appears similar to the seam of a baseball. The mid-ocean ridge system thus is the longest mountain range on Earth, reaching about 65,000 km (40,000 mi).

Mantle plume An upwelling of abnormally hot rock within the Earths mantle

A mantle plume is a proposed mechanism of convection of abnormally hot rock within the Earth's mantle. Because the plume head partly melts on reaching shallow depths, a plume is often invoked as the cause of volcanic hotspots, such as Hawaii or Iceland, and large igneous provinces such as the Deccan and Siberian traps. Some such volcanic regions lie far from tectonic plate boundaries, while others represent unusually large-volume volcanism near plate boundaries or in large igneous provinces.


"Seamount chain" redirects here; for a broader coverage related to this topic, see Undersea mountain range.

Seamounts are often found in groupings or submerged archipelagos, a classic example being the Emperor Seamounts, an extension of the Hawaiian Islands. Formed millions of years ago by volcanism, they have since subsided far below sea level. This long chain of islands and seamounts extends thousands of kilometers northwest from the island of Hawaii.

Distribution of seamounts and guyots in the North Pacific Distribution of seamounts and guyots in the North Pacific.pdf
Distribution of seamounts and guyots in the North Pacific
Distribution of seamounts and guyots in the North Atlantic N Atlantic seamounts (Converted).pdf
Distribution of seamounts and guyots in the North Atlantic

There are more seamounts in the Pacific Ocean than in the Atlantic, and their distribution can be described as comprising several elongate chains of seamounts superimposed on a more or less random background distribution. [6] Seamount chains occur in all three major ocean basins, with the Pacific having the most number and most extensive seamount chains. These include the Hawaiian (Emperor), Mariana, Gilbert, Tuomotu and Austral Seamounts (and island groups) in the north Pacific and the Louisville and Sala y Gomez ridges in the southern Pacific Ocean. In the North Atlantic Ocean, the New England Seamounts extend from the eastern coast of the United States to the mid-ocean ridge. Craig and Sandwell [6] noted that clusters of larger Atlantic seamounts tend to be associated with other evidence of hotspot activity, such as on the Walvis Ridge, Bermuda Islands and Cape Verde Islands. The mid-Atlantic ridge and spreading ridges in the Indian Ocean are also associated with abundant seamounts. [7] Otherwise, seamounts tend not to form distinctive chains in the Indian and Southern Oceans, but rather their distribution appears to be more or less random.

Isolated seamounts and those without clear volcanic origins are less common; examples include Bollons Seamount, Eratosthenes Seamount, Axial Seamount and Gorringe Ridge. [8]

If all known seamounts were collected into one area, they would make a landform the size of Europe. [9] Their overall abundance makes them one of the most common, and least understood, marine structures and biomes on Earth, [10] a sort of exploratory frontier. [11]


Geochemistry and evolution

Diagram of a submarine eruption. (key: 1. Water vapor cloud 2. Water 3. Stratum 4. Lava flow 5. Magma conduit 6. Magma chamber 7. Dike 8. Pillow lava) Click to enlarge. Submarine Eruption-numbers.svg
Diagram of a submarine eruption. (key: 1. Water vapor cloud 2. Water 3. Stratum 4. Lava flow 5. Magma conduit 6. Magma chamber 7. Dike 8. Pillow lava) Click to enlarge.

Most seamounts are built by one of two volcanic processes, although some, such as the Christmas Island Seamount Province near Australia, are more enigmatic. [12] Volcanoes near plate boundaries and mid-ocean ridges are built by decompression melting of rock in the upper mantle. The lower density magma rises through the crust to the surface. Volcanoes formed near or above subducting zones are created because the subducting tectonic plate adds volatiles to the overriding plate that lowers its melting point. Which of these two process involved in the formation of a seamount has a profound effect on its eruptive materials. Lava flows from mid-ocean ridge and plate boundary seamounts are mostly basaltic (both tholeiitic and alkalic), whereas flows from subducting ridge volcanoes are mostly calc-alkaline lavas. Compared to mid-ocean ridge seamounts, subduction zone seamounts generally have more sodium, alkali, and volatile abundances, and less magnesium, resulting in more explosive, viscous eruptions. [11]

All volcanic seamounts follow a particular pattern of growth, activity, subsidence and eventual extinction. The first stage of a seamount's evolution is its early activity, building its flanks and core up from the sea floor. This is followed by a period of intense volcanism, during which the new volcano erupts almost all (e.g. 98%) of its total magmatic volume. The seamount may even grow above sea level to become an oceanic island (for example, the 2009 eruption of Hunga Tonga). After a period of explosive activity near the ocean surface, the eruptions slowly die away. With eruptions becoming infrequent and the seamount losing its ability to maintain itself, the volcano starts to erode. After finally becoming extinct (possibly after a brief rejuvenated period), they are ground back down by the waves. Seamounts are built in a far more dynamic oceanic setting than their land counterparts, resulting in horizontal subsidence as the seamount moves with the tectonic plate towards a subduction zone. Here it is subducted under the plate margin and ultimately destroyed, but it may leave evidence of its passage by carving an indentation into the opposing wall of the subduction trench. The majority of seamounts have already completed their eruptive cycle, so access to early flows by researchers is limited by late volcanic activity. [11]

Ocean-ridge volcanoes in particular have been observed to follow a certain pattern in terms of eruptive activity, first observed with Hawaiian seamounts but now shown to be the process followed by all seamounts of the ocean-ridge type. During the first stage the volcano erupts basalt of various types, caused by various degrees of mantle melting. In the second, most active stage of its life, ocean-ridge volcanoes erupt tholeiitic to mildly alkalic basalt as a result of a larger area melting in the mantle. This is finally capped by alkalic flows late in its eruptive history, as the link between the seamount and its source of volcanism is cut by crustal movement. Some seamounts also experience a brief "rejuvenated" period after a hiatus of 1.5 to 10 million years, the flows of which are highly alkalic and produce many xenoliths. [11]

In recent years, geologists have confirmed that a number of seamounts are active undersea volcanoes; two examples are Lo‘ihi in the Hawaiian Islands and Vailulu'u in the Manu'a Group (Samoa). [8]

Lava types

Pillow lava, a type of basalt flow that originates from lava-water interactions during submarine eruptions. Pillow basalt crop l.jpg
Pillow lava, a type of basalt flow that originates from lava-water interactions during submarine eruptions.

The most apparent lava flows at a seamount are the eruptive flows that cover their flanks, however igneous intrusions, in the forms of dikes and sills, are also an important part of seamount growth. The most common type of flow is pillow lava, named so after its distinctive shape. Less common are sheet flows, which are glassy and marginal, and indicative of larger-scale flows. Volcaniclastic sedimentary rocks dominate shallow-water seamounts. They are the products of the explosive activity of seamounts that are near the water's surface, and can also form from mechanical wear of existing volcanic rock. [11]


Seamounts can form in a wide variety of tectonic settings, resulting in a very diverse structural bank. Seamounts come in a wide variety of structural shapes, from conical to flat-topped to complexly shaped. [11] Some are built very large and very low, such as Koko Guyot [14] and Detroit Seamount; [15] others are built more steeply, such as Loihi Seamount [16] and Bowie Seamount. [17] Some seamounts also have a carbonate or sediment cap. [11]

Many seamounts show signs of intrusive activity, which is likely to lead to inflation, steepening of volcanic slopes, and ultimately, flank collapse. [11] There are also several sub-classes of seamounts. The first are guyots, seamounts with a flat top. These tops must be 200 m (656 ft) or more below the surface of the sea; the diameters of these flat summits can be over 10 km (6.2 mi). [18] Knolls are isolated elevation spikes measuring less than 1,000 meters (3,281 ft). Lastly, pinnacles are small pillar-like seamounts. [5]


Ecological role of seamounts

Seamounts are exceptionally important to their biome ecologically, but their role in their environment is poorly understood. Because they project out above the surrounding sea floor, they disturb standard water flow, causing eddies and associated hydrological phenomena that ultimately result in water movement in an otherwise still ocean bottom. Currents have been measured at up to 0.9 knots, or 48 centimeters per second. Because of this upwelling seamounts often carry above-average plankton populations, seamounts are thus centers where the fish that feed on them aggregate, in turn falling prey to further predation, making seamounts important biological hotspots. [5]

Seamounts provide habitats and spawning grounds for these larger animals, including numerous fish. Some species, including black oreo (Allocyttus niger) and blackstripe cardinalfish (Apogon nigrofasciatus), have been shown to occur more often on seamounts than anywhere else on the ocean floor. Marine mammals, sharks, tuna, and cephalopods all congregate over seamounts to feed, as well as some species of seabirds when the features are particularly shallow. [5]

Grenadier fish (Coryphaenoides sp.) and bubblegum coral (Paragorgia arborea) on the crest of Davidson Seamount. These are two species attracted to the seamount; Paragorgia arborea in particular grows in the surrounding area as well, but nowhere near as profusely. Bubblegum coral on davidson.jpg
Grenadier fish (Coryphaenoides sp.) and bubblegum coral (Paragorgia arborea) on the crest of Davidson Seamount. These are two species attracted to the seamount; Paragorgia arborea in particular grows in the surrounding area as well, but nowhere near as profusely.

Seamounts often project upwards into shallower zones more hospitable to sea life, providing habitats for marine species that are not found on or around the surrounding deeper ocean bottom. Because seamounts are isolated from each other they form "undersea islands" creating the same biogeographical interest. As they are formed from volcanic rock, the substrate is much harder than the surrounding sedimentary deep sea floor. This causes a different type of fauna to exist than on the seafloor, and leads to a theoretically higher degree of endemism. [20] However, recent research especially centered at Davidson Seamount suggests that seamounts may not be especially endemic, and discussions are ongoing on the effect of seamounts on endemicity. They have, however, been confidently shown to provide a habitat to species that have difficulty surviving elsewhere. [21] [22]

The volcanic rocks on the slopes of seamounts are heavily populated by suspension feeders, particularly corals, which capitalize on the strong currents around the seamount to supply them with food. This is in sharp contrast with the typical deep-sea habitat, where deposit-feeding animals rely on food they get off the ground. [5] In tropical zones extensive coral growth results in the formation of coral atolls late in the seamount's life. [22] [23]

In addition soft sediments tend to accumulate on seamounts, which are typically populated by polychaetes (annelid marine worms) oligochaetes (microdrile worms), and gastropod mollusks (sea slugs). Xenophyophores have also been found. They tend to gather small particulates and thus form beds, which alters sediment deposition and creates a habitat for smaller animals. [5] Many seamounts also have hydrothermal vent communities, for example Suiyo [24] and Loihi seamounts. [25] This is helped by geochemical exchange between the seamounts and the ocean water. [11]

Seamounts may thus be vital stopping points for some migratory animals, specifically whales. Some recent research indicates whales may use such features as navigational aids throughout their migration. [26] For a long time it has been surmised that many pelagic animals visit seamounts as well, to gather food, but proof of this aggregating effect has been lacking. The first demonstration of this conjecture was published in 2008. [27]


The effect that seamounts have on fish populations has not gone unnoticed by the commercial fishing industry. Seamounts were first extensively fished in the second half of the 20th century, due to poor management practices and increased fishing pressure seriously depleting stock numbers on the typical fishing ground, the continental shelf. Seamounts have been the site of targeted fishing since that time. [28]

Nearly 80 species of fish and shellfish are commercially harvested from seamounts, including spiny lobster (Palinuridae), mackerel (Scombridae and others), red king crab (Paralithodes camtschaticus), red snapper (Lutjanus campechanus), tuna (Scombridae), Orange roughy (Hoplostethus atlanticus), and perch (Percidae). [5]


Because of overfishing at their seamount spawning grounds, stocks of orange roughy (Hoplostethus atlanticus) have plummeted; experts say that it could take decades for the species to restore itself to its former numbers. Orange roughy.png
Because of overfishing at their seamount spawning grounds, stocks of orange roughy (Hoplostethus atlanticus) have plummeted; experts say that it could take decades for the species to restore itself to its former numbers.

The ecological conservation of seamounts is hurt by the simple lack of information available. Seamounts are very poorly studied, with only 350 of the estimated 100,000 seamounts in the world having received sampling, and fewer than 100 in depth. [29] Much of this lack of information can be attributed to a lack of technology,[ clarification needed ] and to the daunting task of reaching these underwater structures; the technology to fully explore them has only been around the last few decades. Before consistent conservation efforts can begin, the seamounts of the world must first be mapped, a task that is still in progress. [5]

Overfishing is a serious threat to seamount ecological welfare. There are several well-documented cases of fishery exploitation, for example the orange roughy (Hoplostethus atlanticus) off the coasts of Australia and New Zealand and the pelagic armorhead (Pseudopentaceros richardsoni) near Japan and Russia. [5] The reason for this is that the fishes that are targeted over seamounts are typically long-lived, slow-growing, and slow-maturing. The problem is confounded by the dangers of trawling, which damages seamount surface communities, and the fact that many seamounts are located in international waters, making proper monitoring difficult. [28] Bottom trawling in particular is extremely devastating to seamount ecology, and is responsible for as much as 95% of ecological damage to seamounts. [30]

Coral earrings of this type are often made from coral harvested off seamounts. Koral1.jpg
Coral earrings of this type are often made from coral harvested off seamounts.

Corals from seamounts are also vulnerable, as they are highly valued for making jewellery and decorative objects. Significant harvests have been produced from seamounts, often leaving coral beds depleted. [5]

Individual nations are beginning to note the effect of fishing on seamounts, and the European Commission has agreed to fund the OASIS project, a detailed study of the effects of fishing on seamount communities in the North Atlantic. [28] Another project working towards conservation is CenSeam, a Census of Marine Life project formed in 2005. CenSeam is intended to provide the framework needed to prioritise, integrate, expand and facilitate seamount research efforts in order to significantly reduce the unknown and build towards a global understanding of seamount ecosystems, and the roles they have in the biogeography, biodiversity, productivity and evolution of marine organisms. [29] [31]

Possibly the best ecologically studied seamount in the world is Davidson Seamount, with six major expeditions recording over 60,000 species observations. The contrast between the seamount and the surrounding area was well-marked. [21] One of the primary ecological havens on the seamount is its deep sea coral garden, and many of the specimens noted were over a century old. [19] Following the expansion of knowledge on the seamount there was extensive support to make it a marine sanctuary, a motion that was granted in 2008 as part of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. [32] Much of what is known about seamounts ecologically is based on observations from Davidson. [19] [27] Another such seamount is Bowie Seamount, which has also been declared a marine protected area by Canada for its ecological richness. [33]


Graph showing the rise in global sea level (in mm) as measured by the NASA/CNES oceanic satellite altimeter TOPEX/Poseidon (left) and its follow-on mission Jason-1. Sealevel chart.jpg
Graph showing the rise in global sea level (in mm) as measured by the NASA/CNES oceanic satellite altimeter TOPEX/Poseidon (left) and its follow-on mission Jason-1.

The study of seamounts has been stymied for a long time by the lack of technology. Although seamounts have been sampled as far back as the 19th century, their depth and position meant that the technology to explore and sample seamounts in sufficient detail did not exist until the last few decades. Even with the right technology available,[ clarification needed ] only a scant 1% of the total number have been explored, [9] and sampling and information remains biased towards the top 500 m (1,640 ft). [5] New species are observed or collected and valuable information is obtained on almost every submersible dive at seamounts. [10]

Before seamounts and their oceanographic impact can be fully understood, they must be mapped, a daunting task due to their sheer number. [5] The most detailed seamount mappings are provided by multibeam echosounding (sonar), however after more than 5000 publicly held cruises, the amount of the sea floor that has been mapped remains minuscule. Satellite altimetry is a broader alternative, albeit not as detailed, with 13,000 catalogued seamounts; however this is still only a fraction of the total 100,000. The reason for this is that uncertainties in the technology limit recognition to features 1,500 m (4,921 ft) or larger. In the future, technological advances could allow for a larger and more detailed catalogue. [23]

Observations from CryoSat-2 combined with data from other satellites has shown thousands of previously uncharted seamounts, with more to come as data is interpreted. [34] [35] [36] [37]

Deep-sea mining

Seamounts are a possible future source of economically important metals. Even though the ocean makes up 70% of Earth's surface area, technological challenges with deep sea mining have severely limited its extent. But with the constantly decreasing supply on land, many see oceanic mining as the destined future, and seamounts stand out as candidates. [38]

Seamounts are abundant, and all have metal resource potential because of various enrichment processes during the seamount's life. An example for epithermal gold mineralization on the seafloor is Conical Seamount, located about 8 km south of Lihir Island in Papua New Guinea. Conical Seamount has a basal diameter of about 2.8 km and rises about 600 m above the seafloor to a water depth of 1050 m. Grab samples from its summit contain the highest gold concentrations yet reported from the modern seafloor (max. 230 g/t Au, avg. 26 g/t, n=40). [39] Iron-manganese, hydrothermal iron oxide, sulfide, sulfate, sulfur, hydrothermal manganese oxide, and phosphorite [40] (the latter especially in parts of Micronesia) are all mineral resources that are deposited upon or within seamounts. However, only the first two have any potential of being targeted by mining in the next few decades. [38]


USS San Francisco in dry dock in Guam in January 2005, following its collision with an uncharted seamount. The damage was extensive and the submarine was just barely salvaged. US Navy 050127-N-4658L-030 The Los Angeles-class fast-attack submarine USS San Francisco (SSN 711) in dry dock to assess damage sustained after running aground approximately 350 miles south of Guam Jan. 8, 2005.jpg
USS San Francisco in dry dock in Guam in January 2005, following its collision with an uncharted seamount. The damage was extensive and the submarine was just barely salvaged.

Some seamounts have not been mapped and thus pose a navigational danger. For instance, Muirfield Seamount is named after the ship that hit it in 1973. [42] More recently, the submarine USS San Francisco ran into an uncharted seamount in 2005 at a speed of 35 knots (40.3 mph; 64.8 km/h), sustaining serious damage and killing one seaman. [41]

One major seamount risk is that often, in the late of stages of their life, extrusions begin to seep in the seamount. This activity leads to inflation, over-extension of the volcano's flanks, and ultimately flank collapse, leading to submarine landslides with the potential to start major tsunamis, which can be among the largest natural disasters in the world. In an illustration of the potent power of flank collapses, a summit collapse on the northern edge of Vlinder Seamount resulted in a pronounced headwall scarp and a field of debris up to 6 km (4 mi) away. [11] A catastrophic collapse at Detroit Seamount flattened its whole structure extensively. [15] Lastly, in 2004, scientists found marine fossils 61 m (200 ft) up the flank of Kohala mountain in Hawaii (island). Subsidation analysis found that at the time of their deposition, this would have been 500 m (1,640 ft) up the flank of the volcano, [43] far too high for a normal wave to reach. The date corresponded with a massive flank collapse at the nearby Mauna Loa, and it was theorized that it was a massive tsunami, generated by the landslide, that deposited the fossils. [44]

See also

Related Research Articles

Guyot An isolated, flat-topped underwater volcano mountain

In marine geology, a guyot, also known as a tablemount, is an isolated underwater volcanic mountain (seamount) with a flat top more than 200 m (660 ft) below the surface of the sea. The diameters of these flat summits can exceed 10 km (6.2 mi). Guyots are most commonly found in the Pacific Ocean, but they have been identified in all the oceans except the Arctic Ocean.

Hawaiian–Emperor seamount chain A mostly undersea mountain range in the Pacific Ocean that reaches above sea level in Hawaii.

The Hawaiian–Emperor seamount chain is a mostly undersea mountain range in the Pacific Ocean that reaches above sea level in Hawaii. It is composed of the Hawaiian ridge, consisting of the islands of the Hawaiian chain northwest to Kure Atoll, and the Emperor Seamounts: together they form a vast underwater mountain region of islands and intervening seamounts, atolls, shallows, banks and reefs along a line trending southeast to northwest beneath the northern Pacific Ocean. The seamount chain, containing over 80 identified undersea volcanoes, stretches about 6,200 kilometres (3,900 mi) from the Aleutian Trench in the far northwest Pacific to the Loʻihi seamount, the youngest volcano in the chain, which lies about 35 kilometres (22 mi) southeast of the Island of Hawaiʻi.

Evolution of Hawaiian volcanoes Processes of growth and erosion of the volcanoes of the Hawaiian islands

The fifteen volcanoes that make up the eight principal islands of Hawaii are the youngest in a chain of more than 129 volcanoes that stretch 5,800 kilometres (3,600 mi) across the North Pacific Ocean, called the Hawaiian-Emperor seamount chain. Hawaiʻi's volcanoes rise an average of 4,572 metres (15,000 ft) to reach sea level from their base. The largest, Mauna Loa, is 4,169 metres (13,678 ft) high. As shield volcanoes, they are built by accumulated lava flows, growing a few meters/feet at a time to form a broad and gently sloping shape.

Submarine volcano Underwater vents or fissures in the Earths surface from which magma can erupt

Submarine volcanoes are underwater vents or fissures in the Earth's surface from which magma can erupt. Many submarine volcanoes are located near areas of tectonic plate formation, known as mid-ocean ridges. The volcanoes at mid-ocean ridges alone are estimated to account for 75% of the magma output on Earth. Although most submarine volcanoes are located in the depths of seas and oceans, some also exist in shallow water, and these can discharge material into the atmosphere during an eruption. The Kolumbo submarine volcano in the Aegean Sea was discovered in 1650 when it erupted, killing 70 people on the nearby island of Santorini. The total number of submarine volcanoes is estimated to be over 1 million, of which some 75,000 rise more than 1 km above the seabed.

Bowie Seamount Submarine volcano in the northeastern Pacific Ocean

Bowie Seamount is a large submarine volcano in the northeastern Pacific Ocean, located 180 km (110 mi) west of Haida Gwaii, British Columbia, Canada.

Hawaii hotspot A volcanic hotspot located near the Hawaiian Islands, in the northern Pacific Ocean

The Hawaii hotspot is a volcanic hotspot located near the namesake Hawaiian Islands, in the northern Pacific Ocean. One of the best known and intensively studied hotspots in the world, the Hawaii plume is responsible for the creation of the Hawaiian–Emperor seamount chain, a 5,800-kilometre (3,600 mi) mostly undersea volcanic mountain range. Four of these volcanoes are active, two are dormant; more than 123 are extinct, most now preserved as atolls or seamounts. The chain extends from south of the island of Hawaiʻi to the edge of the Aleutian Trench, near the eastern coast of Russia.

Davidson Seamount Underwater volcano off the coast of Central California, southwest of Monterey

Davidson Seamount is a seamount located off the coast of Central California, 80 mi (129 km) southwest of Monterey and 75 mi (121 km) west of San Simeon. At 26 mi (42 km) long and 8 mi (13 km) wide, it is one of the largest known seamounts in the world. From base to crest, the seamount is 7,480 ft (2,280 m) tall, yet its summit is still 4,101 ft (1,250 m) below the sea surface. The seamount is biologically diverse, with 237 species and 27 types of deep-sea coral having been identified.

The following outline is provided as an overview of and introduction to Oceanography.

Rodriguez Seamount A flat topped seamount off the coast of Central California

Rodriguez Seamount is a seamount and guyot located about 150 km (93 mi) off the coast of Central California. It is structurally similar to the nearby Guide, Pioneer, Gumdrop, and Davidson seamounts, all located roughly between 37.5° and 34.0° degrees of latitude. This group of seamounts is morphologically unique, and the mounts are very similar to one another. The seamount structures run parallel to an ancient spreading center which has since been replaced in its role by the San Andreas Fault system.

Geology of the Pacific Ocean

The Pacific Ocean evolved in the Mesozoic from the Panthalassic Ocean, which had formed when Rodinia rifted apart around 750 Ma. The first ocean floor which is part of the current Pacific Plate began 160 Ma to the west of the central Pacific and subsequently developed into the largest oceanic plate on Earth.

Wōdejebato A guyot in the Marshall Islands northwest of the smaller Pikinni Atoll

Wōdejebato is a Cretaceous guyot or tablemount in the northern Marshall Islands, Pacific Ocean. Wōdejebato is probably a shield volcano and is connected through a submarine ridge to the smaller Pikinni Atoll 74 kilometres (46 mi) southeast of the guyot; unlike Wōdejebato, Pikinni rises above sea level. The seamount rises for 4,420 metres (14,500 ft) to 1,335 metres (4,380 ft) depth and is formed by basaltic rocks. The name Wōdejebato refers to a sea god of Pikinni.

Limalok A Cretaceous-Paleocene guyot in the Marshall Islands

Limalok is a Cretaceous-Paleocene guyot/tablemount in the southeastern Marshall Islands, one of a number of seamounts in the Pacific Ocean. It was probably formed by a volcanic hotspot in present-day French Polynesia. Limalok lies southeast of Mili Atoll and Knox Atoll, which rise above sea level, and is joined to each of them through a volcanic ridge. It is located at a depth of 1,255 metres (4,117 ft) and has a summit platform with an area of 636 square kilometres (246 sq mi).

Ita Mai Tai seamount in the Pacific Ocean

Ita Mai Tai is a Cretaceous-early Cenozoic seamount northwest of the Marshall Islands and north of Micronesia. One among a number of seamounts in the Pacific Ocean, it is part of the Magellan Seamounts which may have a hotspot origin although Ita Mai Tai itself may not have formed on a hotspot.

Horizon Guyot Tablemount in the Pacific Ocean

Horizon Guyot is a presumably Cretaceous guyot (tablemount) in the Mid-Pacific Mountains, Pacific Ocean. It is an elongated ridge, over 300 kilometres (190 mi) long and 4.3 kilometres (2.7 mi) high, that stretches in a northeast-southwest direction and has two flat tops; it rises to a minimum depth of 1,443 metres (4,730 ft). The Mid-Pacific Mountains lie west of Hawaii and northeast of the Line Islands.

Allison Guyot Seamount in the Pacific Ocean

Allison Guyot is a tablemount (guyot) in the underwater Mid-Pacific Mountains of the Pacific Ocean. It is a trapezoidal flat mountain rising 1,500 metres above the seafloor to a depth of less than 1,500 m, with a summit platform 35 by 70 kilometres wide. The Mid-Pacific Mountains lie west of Hawaii and northeast of the Marshall Islands, but at the time of their formation were located in the Southern Hemisphere.

Monowai (seamount) Volcanic seamount north of New Zealand

Monowai is a volcanic seamount to the north of New Zealand. It is formed by a large caldera and a volcanic cone just south-southeast from the caldera. The volcanic cone rises to depths of up to 100 metres (330 ft) but its depth varies with ongoing volcanic activity, including sector collapses and the growth of lava domes. The seamount and its volcanism were discovered after 1877, but only in 1980 was it named "Monowai" after a research ship of the same name.

Vailuluu Volcanic seamount in the Samoa Islands

Vailulu'u is a volcanic seamount discovered in 1975. It rises from the sea floor to a depth of 593 m and is located between Ta'u and Rose islands at the eastern end of the Samoa hotspot chain. The basaltic seamount is considered to mark the current location of the Samoa hotspot. The summit of Vailulu'u contains a 2 km wide, 400 m deep oval-shaped caldera. Two principal rift zones extend east and west from the summit, parallel to the trend of the Samoan hotspot. A third less prominent rift extends southeast of the summit.

South Arch volcanic field Underwater volcanic field south of Hawaiʻi Island

South Arch volcanic field is an underwater volcanic field south of Hawaiʻi Island. It was active during the last 10,000 years, and covers an area of 35 by 50 kilometres at a depth of 4,950 metres (16,240 ft).


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Geography and geology