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Scripps Researchers Chart Underwater Mountains

Scripps Institution of Oceanography researchers aboard a ship in the southern Atlantic Ocean mapped previously uncharted undersea mountains, the tallest of which is higher than California's Mount Whitney, the research institute announced today.

Researchers on the R/V Melville, a 279-foot research vessel operated by Scripps Oceanography, found the mountains about 1,200 miles southwest of Cape Town, South Africa. The tallest rises 14,700 feet from the seafloor, while the widest spans 87 miles, about the distance from San Diego to Long Beach, according to the research institute.

The ship's course over these mountains was not part of the original plan, said David Sandwell, a Scripps geophysics professor.


Sandwell had originally plotted a different route that he hoped would reveal uncharted undersea features, but bad weather forced the ship off course.

"This is a great example of how serendipity and skill are involved in successful exploration and discovery," said Bruce Applegate, associate director for ship operations at Scripps.

The Melville will next travel through the Strait of Magellan and up the west cost of Chile, where it will explore the ways in which an 8.8-magnitude earthquake last year altered the sea floor.

Researchers on Melville made the same seafloor maps last year soon after the quake, and this year's data will provide new information on how the Earth's crust responds to major earthquakes, according to the research institute.