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Satellite radar for charting seamounts

US: Mount Whitney rises 14,494 feet high in California’s majestic Sierra Nevada, making it the highest summit in the lower 48 states but Scripps Institution of Oceanography (SIO) officials are not agree with this. According to the officials, scientists aboard the Melville are finding seamounts as tall as 14,700 feet on a mapping mission underway in the South Atlantic. One of the seamounts has a diameter of 87 miles, roughly the distance between San Diego and Long Beach.

Scientists use satellite radar to study the ocean’s surface. Those images reveal the rough location of subsea volcanoes and seamounts. But then scientists have to go to sea and use sophisticated sonar to map the upper reaches of the mountains — which is what researchers on Melville have been doing as they have explored a region 1,200 miles southwest of Cape Town, South Africa.

“Only about seven percent of the seafloor has been mapped by ship, so there are a lot of uncharted seamounts around the world,” said David Sandwell, an SIO geophysicist who is helping guide scientists aboard the Melville. “It’s important to study them. We need to understand the geology of the ocean floor.”

Sandwell says some of the seamounts are inactive volcanoes that can affect the path of ocean currents which, in turn, can affect weather and climate. The seamounts also are gathering spots for a diverse collection of marine species, including some types of commercially harvested fish.

J.J. Becker, a geophysicst aboard Melville, said in a statement, “These particular seamounts are so steep that it was nerve-wracking to go from 9,840 feet of water to less than 1,640 feet in 15 or 20 minutes!”

Source: www.signonsandiego.com