ARCTIC OCEAN – Scientists aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Healy, using a 12kHz multi-beam echosounder, discovered a new underwater mountain, known as a seamount, on the Arctic floor Aug. 25, 2009.
The scientists currently onboard the Healy have been mapping the ocean floor in collaboration with their Canadian counterparts aboard the Canadian Coast Guard Ship Louis S. St-Laurent since Aug. 7, 2009, as part of joint U.S. and Canadian efforts to locate the outer edge of the North American continental shelf.
While enroute to map seafloor features targeted for investigation, the scientists had the ship take a slight detour to allow them to map a small contour that had been noted on a 2002 Russian map. As the ship traveled toward the new target, watchstander Christine Hedge, a teacher from Indiana onboard the Healy as part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Teachers at Sea program, noticed something beginning to appear on the shipboard monitors. She alerted the scientific team in time to redirect the ship, which enabled the scientists to map the seamount in its entirety.
The Healy’s high tech mapping system uncovered the seamount, estimated to be at least 1,100 meters tall, in the midst of an otherwise flat and featureless stretch of seafloor approximately 3,800 meters deep. It is located 700 miles north of Alaska.
Underwater features are generally considered seamounts if they reach a height of at least 1,000 meters above the seafloor.
The mapping effort onboard Healy is led by Co-Chief Scientists Dr. Larry Mayer and Capt. Andy Armstrong of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the University of New Hampshire Joint Hydrographic Center.
“From a scientific point of view it’s extremely interesting,” said Armstrong. “It’s in an area where, based on our existing knowledge of the Arctic, we didn’t expect anything to be. So the scientists on this cruise and ashore are going to be looking at this and using this information to recalibrate their understanding of the Arctic,” he said.
The Arctic Ocean is the least explored of the earth’s oceans. While Mayer is satisfied with the finding, he says it’s just the beginning. “This is an exciting discovery, but there are many, many more ahead,” he said.
The Healy is participating in the work of the U.S. Extended Continental Shelf Task Force, a multi-agency project to delimit the outer edges of the U.S. continental shelf.
The yet to be named seamount is the first to be discovered since the 2003 discovery of a seamount that was eventually named Healy.