What is a seamount?

A seamount is an underwater mountain with steep sides rising from the seafloor.

This ~4,200-meter (~13,800-foot) high seamount, dubbed

This ~4,200-meter (~13,800-foot) high seamount, dubbed "Kahalewai," was mapped during the Mountains in the Deep: Exploring the Central Pacific Basin expedition and was found to be almost 1,000 meters taller than previously thought. Image courtesy of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, Mountains in the Deep: Exploring the Central Pacific Basin. Download larger version (jpg, 254 KB).

Most seamounts are remnants of extinct volcanoes. Typically, they are cone shaped, but often have other prominent features such as craters and linear ridges and some, called guyots, have large, flat summits. There is a broad size distribution for seamounts but to be classified as a seamount, the feature must have a vertical relief of at least 1,000 meters (3,300 feet) above the surrounding seafloor.

Seamounts are found in every world ocean basin and while it is not known precisely how many seamounts there are, they are very numerous. Based on data from satellite altimetry and bathymetric mapping data obtained from survey ships, the number of seamounts that are at least 1,000 meters high is thought to be greater than 100,000. Despite their abundance, however, less than one-tenth of a percent of the seamounts in the world have been explored.

Studies conducted over seamounts indicate that seamounts function as “oases of life,” with higher species diversity and biomass found on the seamount and in the waters around it than on the flat seafloor. Seamounts rise up high in the water column, creating complex current patterns influencing what lives on and above them. Seamounts also provide substrate (a location for attachment) where organisms can settle and grow. These organisms provide a food source for other animals. Scientists have found that seamounts often provide habitat to endemic species, or species found only in a single location.