The Wizard of Oz got a hat tip from scientists poking around in an ancient and underwater volcano chain in the Pacific Ocean, as they discovered what looked like a “yellow brick road”. The natural brickwork was actually the result of volcanic geology which has fractured the rock in a curiously uniform way.
E/V Nautilus pilots exploring the Ancient Seamounts of Liliʻuokalani Ridge as part of the Luʻuaeaahikiikekumu expedition were behind the discovery, which you can watch play out in the video below. In it, the team are attempting to sample some manganese crust from the seafloor with the help of a robotic arm and having some success.
Their proficient use of The Claw gives the team an opportunity to more closely inspect a clump of ferromanganese crust, a marine sedimentary mineral deposit made up of iron and manganese oxides. Sample secured, the vessel shuffles on and stumbles across a surprisingly dry-looking stretch of what they call “baked crust” where the cobblestone “yellow brick road” comes into view.
“What is that?” says one researcher. “The road to Atlantis,” says another.
“What may look like a "yellow brick road" to the mythical city of Atlantis is really an example of ancient active volcanic geology!” EVNautilus explained on YouTube. The bizarre geological formation was along a stretch of the summit of Nootka Seamount which sits within Papahānaumokuakea Marine National Monument.
At first, it looked like a patch of dried lake bed, but it has since been identified as hyaloclastite which is a type of volcanic rock found where high-energy eruptions have deposited fragments into the seabed. The reason it looks so brick-like is that it has fractured as a result of being repeatedly warmed and cooled over time as further eruptions took place in the region.
Imagine it a bit like the top of a good brownie; the surface is solid but can rise and fall with heat and cold creating cracks in its surface. This ancient volcanic rock has behaved similarly, only over a lot more time and with a more savory flavor.
The delight of the pilots upon making such a strange observation is palpable in the video, but it’s no doubt an emotion they’ll have to get used to as the exploration of these seamounts is the first-ever survey of the underwater region. Here, they’re hoping to understand why a perplexing split exists in the seamount trail, but who knows what they'll find along the way.
Earlier this year, the same expedition captured incredible footage of a swimming headless chicken monster. Clearly, they’re in for a few more surprises.
This article was originally published in May 2022.