Deep in the waters along a volcanic ridge on the floor of the Atlantic Ocean, marine explorers have found a pattern of holes in the sand, using a remote-controlled vehicle to explore a largely unexplored area.
During a July 23 dive north of the Azores, off the Portuguese mainland, they spotted about a dozen sets of what looked like a trail of lines on the ocean floor at a depth of 1.6 miles.
About a week later, on Thursday, four more were observed on the Azores Plateau, an underwater area where three tectonic plates meet. These holes were about a mile deep and about 300 miles away from the expedition’s original discovery site.
The question asked by scientists in their posts addressed to themselves and the public twitter and FacebookHere’s the thing: What makes these marks on the ocean floor with holes 4 or more inches apart and lines stretching more than 5 feet by 6 feet?
“The origin of the sinkholes has baffled scientists,” the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Ocean Exploration Project said in a Twitter post. “The pits appear to be man-made, but the small piles of sediment around them indicate that they were dug by … something.”
NOAA spokeswoman Emily Krum said about two decades ago, about 27 miles from where the current expedition made the initial sighting, scientists spotted similar holes while exploring.
But the timing of the transition didn’t provide any clear answers, said Michael Vecchione, a NOAA deep-sea biologist involved in the project and part of this latest expedition.
“There’s something important there, and we don’t know what it is,” said Dr. Vecchione said. “It highlights that there are still secrets out there.”
The holes are just some of the questions scientists on an ambitious ocean expedition are exploring as they explore the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. massive deep ocean ridge mountains and stretches more than 10,000 miles beneath the Atlantic Ocean.
Experts with NOAA are currently looking for answers three expeditions They say the 2022 Ridge Voyage, which begins in May and ends in September, will take them from the waters of Newport, RI to the Azores and Puerto Rico in the Caribbean.
Explorers want to know what lives in the continuous series of underwater volcanoes and what happens when the geological processes that generate the heat that sustains life stop.
Derek Sowers, expedition coordinator aboard the NOAA ship Okeanos Explorer, pays close attention to deep-sea coral and sponge communities, which are “some of the most valuable marine ecosystems on Earth.”
Dr. Sowers said expeditions like the Ridge Voyage projects were “key” to building an understanding of the planet’s biodiversity and “the new combinations that all these life forms are creating.”
They want to know more about areas where seawater is heated by magma, from which deep sea life derives energy and chemicals instead of the sun, like most life on Earth.
“This has expanded our understanding of the conditions under which life can occur on other planets,” said Dr. Sowers said.
After the agency took to social media to engage the public, dozens of comments poured in, some fueled by speculation. Are the holes man-made? Could they be a sign of aliens? Are they submarine tracks? Could they be breathing holes?a deep sea creature that buries itself under the sand“?
This last estimate was not so far-sighted, Dr. Vecchione said. into A paper on holes discovered in 2004, Mr. Vecchione and his co-author, Odd Axel Bergstad, a former researcher at the Institute of Marine Research in Norway, proposed two main hypotheses as to why the holes exist. Both involved marine life, either walking on top of the sediment or swimming and burrowing down, or the reverse scenario, digging through the sediment and burrowing up.
It appears to have been pushed under the holes visible on Thursday, Dr. Vecchione said.
The remote-controlled vehicle’s suction device collected sediment samples to investigate whether there was an organism inside the holes, Dr. Sowers said.
Dr. Vecchione said that while he was happy to re-encounter the holes on the ocean floor, he was “a little disappointed” that scientists still couldn’t come up with an explanation.
“It reinforces the idea that it’s a mystery that we’ll find out one day,” he said. “But we haven’t figured it out yet.”
One last dive, it will broadcast liveto be carried out in the second expedition of the series, NOAA said. The third expedition starts in August. 7.
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