Sunday, January 23, 2011
January 23, 2011 : Seamount
A seamount is a mountain rising from the ocean seafloor that does not reach to the water's surface (sea level), and thus is not an island. These are typically formed from extinct volcanoes, that rise abruptly and are usually found rising from a seafloor of 1,000–4,000 metres (3,281–13,123 ft) depth. They are defined by oceanographers as independent features that rise to at least 1,000 metres (3,281 ft) above the seafloor. The peaks are often found hundreds to thousands of metres below the surface, and are therefore considered to be within the deep sea. There are an estimated 100,000 seamounts across the globe, with only a few having been studied. Seamounts come in all shapes and sizes, and follow a distinctive pattern of growth, activity, and death. In recent years, several active seamounts have been observed, for example Loihi in the Hawaiian Islands.
Because of their abundance, seamounts are one of the most common oceanic 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 literally scrapes whole ecosystems off seamounts.
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.