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What is a seamount?

Seamount is an underwater mountain formed by volcanic activity.

Seamount is an underwater mountain formed by volcanic activity

A map of a seamount in the Arctic Ocean created by NOAA's Office of Coast Survey by gathering data with a multibeam echo sounder.

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.