The oceans are a mysterious and extreme part of the world, with many areas still unexplored. To help with this, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency (NOAA) is currently running a mapping campaign off the coast of the Southeastern United States with the ship Okeanos Explorer.
The researchers have captured some incredible views of the continental margin so far, but another part of the mission has captured people's attention. NOAA caused a bit of excitement on Twitter by announcing that it was sending a remotely operated vehicle, called Deep Discoverer, to investigate a sonar anomaly. The investigation was broadcasted live on NOAA channels.
“Today #Okeanos is diving on a sonar anomaly that could potentially be a shipwreck. Tune in to help us discover what this sonar anomaly is – be it an archaeology site, a geological formation, or otherwise!” the agency said in a tweet on June 27.
A sonar anomaly is always something worth investigating. Sonar works by sending sound waves outwards and registering the waves that come back after they've bounced off objects. A sonar anomaly is usually something unexpected of a certain size and shape, so it could be either natural or artificial in origin. The team had hoped for a shipwreck, which wouldn’t have been too out of the ordinary seeing as Okeanos has discovered shipwrecks before.
In this case, though, no sunken ship or treasure was found. The anomaly turns out to be geological in origin. But even though it may be a bit of a disappointment for archeologists, it is instead very exciting for biologists. The rock formation is an ideal habitat for many species that live in these waters.
Okeanos Explorer is the only federally funded US ship that is systematically studying the many unknown areas of the ocean. The entire seafloor has been mapped at a resolution of roughly 5 kilometers (3 miles), too coarse to see small structures such as this anomaly. Roughly 5 percent of the ocean has been explored in detail so far, and we know regions of other planets better than we know our own oceans. There is clearly a lot still left to explore.
The ocean covers 70 percent of our planet and is crucial to the climate, our way of life, and life itself.