Can submarines hide in deep ocean trenches?

Geological wonderland & colon; Thousands of seamounts discovered in the new seabed map

A new topographical map of the Earth's mysterious ocean floor reveals thousands of towering volcanoes, hid scraps where supercontinents tore and other never-before-seen features once obscured by miles of water and thick sediment.

The topography of the earth's seabed is like corrugated cardboard and bumpy as a book in Braille. By reading these peaks and ridges, scientists can chronicle the birth of the new ocean crust and the last migrations of the earth's continents.

However, although the ocean floor carries the crucial clues to plate tectonics, the arid surface of Mars has been more clearly detailed than watery ocean depths.

The new map, published today (Oct. 2) in the journal Science, promises to fill in some of the gaps. Compared to the previous 1997 map, overall resolution is twice as accurate and four times better in coastal areas and the Arctic, said lead study author David Sandwell, marine geophysicist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, California. [Hidden undersea mountains uncovered with satellites (photos)]

Eyes to the sky

As with the earlier 1997 map, scientists expect to improve their knowledge of the Earth's geological history using the new features revealed by the map's finer scale.

"I think this data is very important in terms of the details that are to come," Sandwell told Live Science.

The sea floor topography comes from a gravity model of the ocean, which in turn is based on height measurements from the Jason-1 and Cryosat-2 satellites.

Altitude measurement measures sea surface height from space by timing how long a radar signal takes from the ocean and back accordingly. The ocean surface has subtle ups and downs that mimic the topography of the ocean floor and earth's gravitational field.

"[These] results represent a breakthrough in marine gravity space-based observation," wrote Cheinway Hwang, who was not involved in the study, in a comment accompanying the report. Hwang is a professor at National Chiao Tung University in Hsinchu, Taiwan.

Thousands of volcanoes

The world volcano Graf jumped tremendously thanks to the new map. The number of seamounts rose from around 5,000 to around 20,000, Sandwell said. Underwater mountains are small, conical volcanoes that are usually inactive or extinct. In the deep sea, high seamounts create an uprising in the underwater world. The map captures all seamounts more than 0.9 miles (1.5 km) high.

Some of the new seamounts appear in linear chains, but many do not. This suggests that the volcanoes do not break over a mantle plume, a blob of hot stone rising from the earth's deep mantle (the layer beneath the crust). Some scientists believe coat feathers do not exist, but as with climate change the majority of researchers agree that the concept but argue over the details.

Finding patterns in the newly identified seamounts can help resolve the debate. "There's a notion that many linear volcanic chains aren't formed by mantle springs, and I agree," Sandwell said. "If we map their complete distribution, then we can understand how they grow and develop and so on."

The movement of the Earth's tectonic plates created some of the most noticeable features visible on the ocean floor. These include proliferation ridges and fracture zones where the massive plates pull apart and lava seeps to the surface. Sheets are created at spread ridges and recycled in deep ocean trenches. The ocean trenches appear as deep blue troughs on the gravity map. [Infographic: highest mountain to deepest ocean trench]

"Even now, I'm just amazed at how easily seabed patterns are to spread," Sandwell told Live Science. "They're just like the textbooks." It's just perfect plate tectonics. "

See, the wrinkles of the earth

For the first time, the global ocean floor topography captures the abyssal hills, the most commonly used surface element on Earth, the study reports. While the secrets of its origin are still debated, scientists believe a combination of normal faults and volcanism spreading mountain ridges creates the mounds. The corrugated ridges and valleys cover up to 30 percent of the earth's surface, by some estimates. "They are the most common landform on the planet, and I keep amazed that people have never heard of them," said Sandwell.

Along the coasts, the data discovered flaws and fractures buried under thick piles of mud and sand from the continents.

Sandwell and his colleagues highlighted the new details seen in fracture zones that stretch from South America to Africa. "We can see these faults transform or rupture zones all the way to the continental margins that are currently buried by sediment, and you couldn't see them before," Sandwell said. Although the two continents seem to fit together like puzzle pieces, "wavy lines" in the ruptures tell of tectonic complexities during their separation, he added. "These are something new," said Sandwell. Analyzing such details on each continent will improve reconstructions of recent plate movements.

In the Gulf of Mexico, researchers identified a defunct spreading ridge now buried under miles of sediment. The spreading ridge opened the gulf about 150 million years ago when the Yucatan Peninsula pivoted counterclockwise from North America. [In pictures: how North America grew as a continent]

"Because of a substantial improvement in the accuracy of this new gravitational field, it will lead to more discoveries of tectonic functions, especially in regions with thick sediments," Hwang wrote.

Most of the new ridges, faults and volcanoes were undiscovered because 80 percent of the ocean floor has never been mapped by ships. The new topography will improve depth estimates in much of the ocean, the researchers said.

e-mailBecky Oskinor follow her@beckyoskin. Follow us@livescience,Facebook &Google+.

New seabed map could help Flight Search 370 & period;

The deep sea search for missing Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 could get a boost from a new detailed map of the ocean floor west of Australia. The missing plane left Kuala Lumpur International Airport on a scheduled flight ...

New seabed map reveals secrets of ancient continents pushed match

Tectonic plates may have crawled over the earth's surface to where they are now for billions of years, but they left traces of that movement in bumps and wounds under the sea. Now a new topographic map of the sea floor ...

Thousands of schools of crabs look like a terrifying alien invasion

Researchers off the coast of Panama have unprecedented footage showing thousands of red crabs swarming together in the deoxygenated waters, trapped just above the ocean floor. Led by Jesús Pineda the Woods Hole ...

This caring man planted thousands of flowers for the cutest reason

Imagine waking up one day and realizing that the only thing you see is darkness. How can you learn to experience the world around you when a devastating complication robs the senses on which you have relied for a lifetime ...

Ireland is tearing down thousands of empty & comma; brand new "ghost homes"

Phoenix, Madrid, even Astana: these are the cities we tend to hold as examples of the havoc that construction is booming - and busts - can wreak on a housing market. Ireland is less on the news, but the situation is just so bad ...

Japan's coal-fired power plants "cause thousands of premature deaths"

Greenpeace criticizes "insane" plan for dozens of power plants, with huge impact on air quality and climate change plans by Japan to build dozens of coal-fired power plants causing at least 10,000 premature deaths, lukewarm ...

Thousands of refugees await & comma; Boats for new life as Asia's monsoon rains come to an end

UNHCR expects increase in "irregular" migrants fleeing Bangladesh and Myanmar to use "sailing season", Southeast Asian southern countries to reach thousands of "illegal" migrants fleeing Bangladesh and Myanmar sol ...

The Colorado Plateau & colon; A geological wonderland

The Colorado Plateau is a geological wonderland that covers 130,000 square miles (337,000 square kilometers) centered in the Four Corners area of ​​the American West and within the states of Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah. It r ...

Satellite spy thousands of ancient settlements

Ancient people changed the landscape around their settlements in such a way that even today archaeologists can distinguish between "inhabited" spots and those that have never been occupied by humans. Now two scientists have come up ...

Photos & colon; Thousands of dinosaur tracks along Yukon River

Researchers can only have scratched the surface of a great new dinosaur website almost within the Arctic Circle. Last summer, they discovered thousands of fossilized dinosaur footprints, large and small, on the rocky banks of the ...

Thousands of dinosaur tracks found along Alaska's Yukon River

Researchers can only have scratched the surface of a great new dinosaur website almost within the Arctic Circle. Last summer, they discovered thousands of fossilized dinosaur footprints, large and small, on the rocky banks of the ...

UK child prisons & colon; Thousands of injuries & comma; which have not been announced by the government

Minister reveals that the number of injuries during restraint is nearly five times that of Youth Justice Board Figure Thousands more children have been injured in custody through the use of controversial restraint techniques when the reg ...

Thousands of US children eat laundry pods annually

Thousands of children in the United States have ingested laundry detergent pods in recent years, and now researchers are calling for safer packaging of the brightly colored capsules, according to a new study. From 2012 to 2013, US poison control received cents ...

This ingenious process is & comma; Thousands of people suffer to save

It's no secret that when it comes to debilitating conditions, Parkinson's disease is among the worst. The diagnosis of this condition is particularly devastating as the prognosis is usually bleak. There is a process that is verifiably ...