Deep-sea Researchers Find a ‘Yellow Brick Road’ Under the Sea in Hawaii

What researchers have described as a “yellow brick road to Atlantis” is actually an example of ancient active volcanic geology.

The road was created through the fracturing of volcanic rock which created a brick-like pattern. This, paired with its underwater location, lends itself to some fun comparisons. Still, the road does not lead to Atlantis but rather an interesting look at underwater volcanic activity and Hawaii’s seamounts.

Explorers on an expedition aboard the Exploration Vessel Nautilus, owned and operated by the Ocean Exploration Trust, discovered the unique geological formation while diving on the Lili’uokalani Ridge within the Papahᾱnaumokuakea Marine National Monument in Hawaii.

Researchers returned to the area after a successful expedition in October 2021, which mapped the Lili’uokalani Ridge Seamounts for the first time.

The team returned in April of this year to conduct the first visual exploratory surveys of the seamount chain and investigate a split in the seamount trail that has researchers puzzled.

Hotspot volcano chains are generally linear features, making the team wonder what caused the split in the subsea mountain group.

While exploring the summit of Nootka Seamount, the team spotted a “dried lakebed” formation, which they have identified as a fractured flow of hyaloclastite rock (volcanic rock formed in high-energy eruptions where many rock fragments settle to the seabed).

The 90-degree fractures in the rock are thought to be related to heating and cooling stress from multiple eruptions in this area. The fractures have created the brick road effect, lending itself to the descriptor.

The expedition will help researchers to have a deeper understanding of life on and within seamounts. Studies like this will help provide a baseline of the living communities on seamounts and, ultimately, inform on management and conservation measures.

The Ocean Exploration Trust has posted a video of the rock formation on Nautilus Live linked here


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