Scientists find strange underwater volcano that 'looks like a Bundt cake'

The 3,200-foot-tall feature was found in February by the Saildrone Surveyor mission as it mapped the seafloor off the Californian coast.

A sailing ship surveying the North Pacific that was unmanned made the unexpected underwater discovery off the coast of California, rising "like a Bundt cake" above the ocean surface.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the unidentified formation is barely shy of the minimum height requirement for a seamount, standing at least 3,300 feet (1,000 m) above the surrounding seabed. It is 3,200 feet (975 meters) tall. However, because the feature is an underwater mountain with steep sides rising from the seafloor and the remains of an extinct volcano, like other seamounts, oceanographers have referred to it as such.

Islands like Hawaii can sometimes be seen rising from underwater mountains created by volcanic activity. The crowning crater of this one, however, is still visible 1,200 feet (366 m) below sea level despite being completely flooded.

The only thing that resembles a volcano about this odd seamount is its crater. According to Aurora Elmore, program manager for NOAA's Ocean Exploration Cooperative Institute, "seamounts typically have sloped sides, like Mount Fuji," SFGATE reported. But the intriguing thing about this one is how steep it is. It emerges in the form of a tower from the seafloor.

The strangely formed mountain was discovered 200 miles (322 kilometers) off the coast of northern California by the Saildrone Surveyor, the biggest unmanned ocean mapping craft in the world(opens in new tab). The finding "expands the range" of seamounts because it is situated outside the region where they are often found close to the coast.

Neah Baechler, a hydrographer with the Ocean Exploration Trust and lead surveyor for Saildrone, told The Sacramento Bee(opens in new tab) that when the crew first observed the seamount on multibeam sonar photos, "the immediate reaction from the team was that it looked like a Bundt cake." It has steep sides, a curving top, and a crater at the center. It is quite circular.

According to Elmore, the steep slopes that gave rise to the towering doughnut form may have been honed by millennia of fish feces or by severe and quick volcanic activity. Although there are other examples of this sort of structure on the ocean bottom, it is uncommon to come across one that is (nearly) large enough to count as a seamount.

"The fact that we can still find these things is really exciting," said Jon Copley, an English professor of deep-sea ecology and ocean research at the University of Southampton, to Live Science. There are hundreds of seamounts in the world, and the bulk of them were created by underwater volcanoes. This one contains a crater, which suggests that it was generated as an underwater volcano.

According to Copley, seamounts are essential habitats for marine life because they offer rocky, hard surfaces for organisms to stick to. with the deep sea, which is primarily covered with loose, murky silt, they are few. Some creatures especially flourish on the edges of seamounts because they might be too steep for mud to adhere on, according to Copley. "When one sticks up, it generates powerful currents that allow filter feeders to grow up into the water and catch food, and you get deep-sea coral and sponge gardens growing there," the author explains.

The General Bathymetric Chart of the Oceans' Sub-Committee on Undersea Feature Names, which functions under the International Hydrographic Organization and the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (of UNESCO), will likely decide whether the Bundt cake-shaped mountain will be recognized as a seamount, according to Copley.

The feature was found by the Saildrone Surveyor in February, but the ship's voyage in the North Pacific didn't start until July 2022. Before sailing along the California coast, the ship first scanned the uncharted seabed contours surrounding the Aleutian Islands in Alaska, according to a statement.