Scientists to study Canada’s mysterious underwater mountains

Underwater corals [Photo credit: Fisheries and Oceans Canada]

Canada is home to some of the world’s most spectacular mountains — the beautiful Rockies, for starters, and the second-highest peak in North America, Mount Logan. But lesser known are our underwater mountains, or seamounts.

In fact, we don’t know a whole lot about seamounts at all. These full-blown mountains rising up from the ocean floor were rarely studied until the 1980s, and we’re only beginning to understand their ecological role. Which is why, earlier this month, Fisheries and Oceans Canada announced that they will partner with the Haida Nation, Oceana Canada, and Ocean Networks Canada to share knowledge and learn more about seamounts in Canada’s Pacific Ocean.

“The ocean is vast and doesn’t give up its secrets easily,” said Dr. Robert Rangeley, the director of science with Oceana Canada. “Collaboration is the key to better understanding and protecting marine ecosystems.”

This summer, a group of scientists and researchers will spend 16 days onboard a state-of-the-art vessel studying three seamounts: SGaan Kinghlas-Bowie, Dellwood, and Explorer. The ship includes two remotely operated vehicles (ROVs), and a multibeam echosounder for mapping the seafloor. The expedition hopes to learn more about these areas, including how best to manage and protect them.

remotely operated vehicle, the Hercules
The expedition will use two remotely operated vehicles, the Hercules (pictured) and the Argus, to explore the ocean floor.

“As we continue to work hard to protect 10% of Canada’s marine and coastal areas by 2020, we know that close collaboration is essential to improving our understanding of our oceans and find the best ways to achieve meaningful marine conservation that benefits both the environment and coastal communities,” said Dominic LeBlanc, minister of Fisheries, Oceans, and the Coast Guard.

While scientists don’t know much about seamounts, we do understand the basics. Most seamounts are extinct underwater volcanoes that rise thousands of metres off the seafloor. They’re surrounded by mud plains, and their sides are an ideal habitat for corals and sponges, which in turn provide a nursery and foraging area for fish populations and other marine life. 

“On this expedition, we are . . . ensuring future generations inherit healthy oceans that support thriving coastal communities,” said Rangely.

For those who want to follow along on the voyage, footage, including video from the ROVs on the seafloor, will stream online from July 5-21. The crew will also be available to answer questions. To get involved, check out ProtectOceans.ca.

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