NO PLACE ON this planet is more inhospitable to human life than the deep oceans. Even if you could breathe water, the cold and the crushing pressure would surely extinguish your flame. But that doesn’t mean science can just ignore the depths. In fact, understanding the deep sea is more critical than ever before.
To that end, a team of scientists just mapped over 4,000 square miles of seafloor in the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, off the Hawaiian Islands, in stunning detail. The work aboard the Schmidt Ocean Institute’s research vessel Falkor (yes, like in The NeverEnding Story) reveals not just geological secrets, but clues as to where life might be hiding.
To build such a detailed image of the seafloor, the team didn’t use any old sonar, but something called multibeam sonar, which fires out lots of pings in a sort of ribbon of sound. “The analogy is mowing the lawn,” says oceanographer and lead scientist John Smith of the University of Hawaii. “You’re actually collecting over 400 depth points per single ping, so you’ve got these multiple beams of sound.” That means super high resolution images—on the scale of mere meters, compared to hundreds of meters with old sonar tech—of towering seamounts that could be home to unique deep-sea life.