Left: Multibeam image of Ely Seamount in the Gulf of Alaska from NOAA's Gulf of Alaska 2004 Seamounts Expedition. Right: Lophelia, Candidella, and solitary cup corals with brittle stars, crinoids, and various sponges found during a 2004 NOAA expedition to a seamount chain off the coast of New England.
Making Waves audio podcast: Listen to an interview with a NOAA marine biologist about the
hidden world of seamounts.
Seamounts — undersea mountains formed by volcanic activity — were once thought to be little more than hazards to submarine navigation. Today, scientists recognize these structures as biological hotspots that support a dazzling array of marine life.
The biological richness of seamount habitats results from the shape of these undersea mountains. Thanks to the steep slopes of seamounts, nutrients are carried upwards from the depths of the oceans toward the sunlit surface, providing food for creatures ranging from corals to fish to crustaceans.
New estimates suggest that, taken together, seamounts encompass about 28.8 million square kilometers of the Earth's surface. That's larger than deserts, tundra, or any other single land-based global habitat on the planet.