Just discovered: An underwater mountain taller than Burj Khalifa

Thanks to a world-first uncrewed ocean mapping mission.
Sade Agard
The Saildrone Surveyor,  SD 1200
The Saildrone Surveyor, SD 1200


Saildrone Surveyor SD 1200, the largest uncrewed ocean mapping vessel in the world, has discovered a previously unidentified seamount greater than Earth's tallest building, according to a recent press release.

The initiative contributes to filling ocean exploration gaps, especially in remote areas. Given that just 5 percent of the seas have been explored, it's pursuits like this that could finally reveal all the ocean's mysteries!

Additionally, discovering seamounts helps to advance our knowledge of the physical functions of the ocean. Such geological landforms could serve as a spotlight for distinct habitats- perhaps for previously unknown life- that require further investigation.

Why do we need vessels to explore the ocean?

"Every American, in one way or another, depends on the ocean—from protein from fish to feed animals or humans, to deep-sea cables that make the internet possible," said Dr. Aurora Elmore, Cooperative Institute Manager at NOAA Ocean Exploration. 

"The only way the US can maximize our ocean resources is to understand what's there. This mission is the first step to mapping the seafloor of key regions in Aleutian waters in high resolution," she added. 

The United States Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) is a region that extends 200 nautical miles off the coast. Although one of the largest, it remains vastly unmapped, unseen, and unexplored. Alaska, in particular, is significantly the least charted section of the US EEZ in terms of area.

SD 1200, as it's sometimes referred to, scanned over 45,000 square kilometers of unchartered ocean floor off the coast of California and around Alaska's Aleutian Islands, where severe weather is typical.

Despite conditions that would have been too difficult for most crewed survey vessels, the Surveyor collected high-quality data. This included 35-knot winds (where walking is difficult) and wave surges over 5 meters (16 feet).

During the SD 1200's final 29,720 square kilometers (8,665 square nautical miles) of the US EEZ off the coast of California, it found a previously unidentified seamount about 1,000 meters (3,200 feet) high. To put the vastness of this into perspective, note that the tallest building in the world- the Burj Khalifa in UAE- stands at 828 meters (2,717 feet).

"The Surveyor weathered the storms, collected high-resolution bathymetry, and put no humans at risk," stated Brian Connon, Saildrone VP of Ocean Mapping.

He argued that the mission proves that long-endurance USVs (uncrewed surface vehicles) provide a viable option to achieve the goals of the National Ocean Mapping, Exploration, and Characterization Strategy. 

"This is the future of ocean mapping," he concluded. 

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