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Near the scenic region of Big Sur, scientists have come across something unaccountable. By leveraging state-of-the-art technology, a large number of holes were found in the Pacific Ocean. You may wonder how this discovery came about and what caused these craters.
In for a Shock
Modern engineering has enabled mankind to break boundaries. The machine the team is using is equipped with advanced gadgets and instruments. This wide array of gizmos transmits important information about the seafloor. These holes dotted around the bottom seemed harmless at first. Closer inspection showed that there’s more to this than just a mark of time.
A Different and More Dangerous Cavity
Evidence claims these cavities first showed up in 1999. This area of the seabed is now marked as a pockmark field. Why? The large dents, or cavities, that define the area call for that title. Pockmarks are crater-like dents that can be found on the seafloor.
They’re caused by fluids escaping through the bottom of the ocean. These come in numerous shapes and sizes. They’re typically concave and crater-like. The one near Big Sur is said to be the largest pockmark field in North America.
What Made the Discovery
These pockmarks have been here for a while. However, the attempt to learn more about them is a recent development. The technology available wasn’t sufficient to conduct conclusive research. This is why more concerted attempts were taken over the last decade or so.
The results? A machine called the Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV). It surveys the seafloors using a sonar mounted on it. This bot was sent to the seabed to learn more about the mysterious cavities. That’s when the scientists came across the oddities.
Unraveling the Mystery
Certain mysteries still revolve around this unique pockmark field. Scientists have come a long way, though. They certainly know more now than they did a couple of decades ago. The National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) played a huge role in this development.
It’s part of the U.S. Department of Commerce. This institution monitors bodies of water regularly. The agency also advises areas on how to act if oceanic conditions are bad. The Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) also contributed to this development.
Diving in Deep
The MBARI is a non-profit organization that can be found in Moss Landing, California. This oceanographic research center was initiated by David Packard in 1987. California is said to be the heart of the largest marine sanctuary.
The MBARI leverages science and engineering to study the movements of the ocean. Over 200 people are associated with the organization. They use AUVs and remotely operated vehicles (ROV) to study the seafloor. The organization has one goal, and that is to understand the ocean better.
Principles of Operation
The ocean is ever-changing. Packard had outlined the institution’s goals, which aim to maintain the institution’s position as the world center for advanced research in ocean science. There’s a need to develop instruments and systems to learn the ocean better.
It wants to understand how the ocean responds to changes. Packard valued asking difficult questions. The company is encouraged to take risks and accept the occasional failure. A revolutionary change cannot be witnessed otherwise. The MBARI also emphasizes peer relationships between engineers for successful collaborative efforts.
A Different Outtake
It was actually the experts in MBARI who first noticed the indents on the seabed, and they first noticed them in 1999. Two decades later, the quest to learn more about these mysterious holes is still on — especially considering that the area was said to be a potential site for wind farming.
The surveys they conducted revealed over 5,200 pockmarks. They were found stretched over 1,300 square kilometers. No wonder why it’s said to be the largest pockmark field in all of North America.
The Mark of Sustainability
An article by the San Diego Tribune in 2018 claimed that the Californian coast is an excellent place for wind farming. It’s said that around a terawatt of electricity could be produced annually — a promising number. This adds up to 13 times the amount generated by inland wind farms in all of America.
The California Energy Commission shared some interesting figures recently. Wind contributes to 36% of the energy generated by renewable facilities. This should make the industry giddy. However, the future holds a different story.
The Challenges it Holds
When wind energy first emerged, California was the leading producer of it. However, there are numerous challenges in building wind facilities away from the shore. The ocean floor in the Pacific is inconsistent so, anchoring a wind farm there could become problematic.
The call for new development is bleak. In fact, there’s a risk of decreased capacity in California. Even the U.S. Navy vetoed the idea of using parts of the ocean for wind farming. This shows that the Californian coastal waters are impractical.
However, wind power has so much to offer. The possibilities led to the area being closely studied and surveyed anyway. The NOAA drew a map of the ocean floor near the Big Sur in 2017. The institution ventures into the deeper recesses of the ocean every year.
It goes further north and west, each time uncovering something new. Its unique way of working from the sea and the shore broadens perspective. This also results in more real-time data. Their work along with the MBARI established the number of pockmarks found.
A Depressive State
The MBARI looked for more details about these pockmarks over the Californian seabed. In 2018, another research was conducted. This helped them discover the average size of the pockets. The large depressions were around 600 feet long and 16 feet deep.
They were round, too. The gaps between them were uniform. This research established that this was undoubtedly the largest number of pockmarks. A large number of holes made it a significant region of research in North America. Scientists have yet to find a larger sample.
Pockmark fields can be observed all around the globe. There are some undiscovered ones, too. These can be found on seismic lines on the seafloor and are sometimes called submarine erosions. Specialists claim that there’s a reason for these dents.
Apparently, these indentations are the result of gases discharged from the ocean floor. They respond to fluid expulsion of the seabed. The gases or expulsions include methane among others. This makes the bottom of the sea particularly volatile and disturbed.
An Unexpected Resource
However, the presence of methane in Big Sur was not confirmed. The MBARI found no explicit evidence that contributes to this theory. The research says these cavities have been lying dormant for thousands of years — roughly 50,000.
Although it’s hard to confirm, that’s what the experts have concluded with the data they collected. The sonar used offers quality service. The team claims they were able to minimize network latency and packet loss. This is why they were able to collect real-time data too.
A Historical Presence
The struggle to find out what caused these pockmarks remains. These large indents appeared without explanation, which baffles all experts involved. The pockmarks in the Pacific Ocean still have a long way to go in terms of research.
Modern technology brings some hope, though. Experts believe that utilizing the latest techniques will help them identify this better. It’s still experimental, though. Sonar surveys in the North Sea revealed large amounts of methane hydrates. The same can’t be said for the Big Sur region.
What Lurks Behind
The pockmark field near the Big Sur region is interesting for multiple reasons. Firstly, there’s no evidence of methane in the seawater. Methane releases make the seabed volatile. It poses a risk for large structures such as wind turbines.
Secondly, the sonar data shows these sediments have been inactive for years. To be specific, 50,000 years. The AUVs uncovered this interesting phenomenon.
The AUVs are designed to mark arduous journeys into the sea. These robots run automatically. It doesn’t need to be controlled by an individual either. They can be utilized by multiple sectors including commercial enterprises. Companies within the oil industry will undoubtedly find this machine useful.
These intuitive contraptions are perfect for conducting underwater research. With these machines, the MBARI was able to look into this pockmark field with clarity. This is how they noticed the oddities — the lesser holes in the seafloor that were significantly smaller and absolutely unique.
Small But Serious
The smaller holes were about 35 feet long and three feet deep. They appeared more frequently, too. It was said that they appeared thrice as much as the larger pockmarks. A closer inspection showed that there were around 15,000 of these in that region.
Some of these micro-depressions were steeper than the pockmarks themselves. They were also elongated towards one direction. Unlike the pockmarks, these were found to be a fairly recent development. It’s unclear how it came about, but the team has some ideas.
The Domino Effect
These micro-depressions were formed much later than the larger pockmarks. Some believe that it’s a recent development while others say that these simply have remained hidden. The soft sediments were swept away by the currents, which revealed the micro-depressions.
Maybe the movement of sea creatures could have brought this change, too. However, this doesn’t reveal the full story, not even half of it. The team of experts at the MBARI says more research is needed to fully comprehend the situation, for both the micro-depressions and the pockmarks.
Smeared With Waste
Observations showed that most of the micro-depressions held certain pieces of matter including seaweeds, rocks, and even micro-organisms. This wasn’t alarming, though. A large number of these small cavities held bits of plastic and garbage, like fishing tools and decaying waste. That was the disturbing bit.
It’s hard to say whether this is unique to the California coast only. Other seabeds could exhibit similar states of disarray. Sadly, plastic pollution is nothing new. Our oceans are susceptible to this more frequently than ever now.
The Repercussion of Ignorance
Microplastics are one of the biggest environmental threats. Sea animals are becoming sick due to this alarming change. Abandoned fishing gear and broken plastic are finding their way to the sea. There’s a high chance that this waste is the cause of micro-depressions.
Or at least, these plastics are one of the factors behind micro-depressions. However, it’s hard to predict what the lasting repercussion of this ignorance will be. An unexpected but not unwanted sight was found, too — some sea creatures have been using this debris for habitation.
Some Pleasant Oddities
In some cases, waste becomes home. The ocean is succumbing to plastic. Some marine creatures get the brunt of it. They ingest plastic or get entangled with the debris. However, some living creatures ended up making their homes in those wastes.
It’s speculated that this waste can encourage the growth of pathogens in oceans. Certain marine animals thrive in sunken vessels while others find themselves in abandoned offshore oil platforms.
A concept called rig-to-reefs appeared in a journal in 2014. This paper claimed abandoned oil platforms in the Californian coastal waters can be a thriving ecosystem. It claims these locations can host even the richest oceanic environments.
One such example can be found in the Gulf of Mexico. Over 200 oil platforms were abandoned for the last 30 to 40 years. Sea creatures moved into the structures during this time and have thrived without an issue. In fact, the fishing industry is said to be booming in that region.
Just One of the Concerns
Studies have documented marine life with several oil and gas structures in the ocean. In the right circumstances, marine communities can grow in the most unexpected places. However, it’s wishful thinking to say all abandoned oil platforms will be the same.
Not every oil platform can host sea life. An organization called Decommissioning Ecology Group said that. They claim that other factors are affecting this issue. This includes the productivity of offshore ecosystems. The group claims habitat value is only one factor that contributes to rig-to-reef decisions.
Holds Real Value
The Decommissioning Ecology Group’s Ashley Fowler claims rig-to-reefs have merit. However, Fowler says research is required to do this in a sustainable manner. It’s important to see the interaction among the natural communities. There’s social and economical value in artificial reefs like this one.
Therefore, this idea has merit. It’s important to develop national policies that recognize the benefits of this. Procedures to convert obsolete platforms into reefs are important, too. Legal research must be conducted to optimize this scenario.
It Remains Unsolved
Questions remain about the depressions on the Californian seabed formed by trash. There are so many things left unanswered. Their mysterious appearance is yet to be resolved. Even the MBARI claims these indents were an absolute surprise. The pockmarks and micro-depressions occurred in softer sediments.
The area is distinct in terms of marine life. The reason behind the appearance of these pockmarks still remains a mysterious phenomenon. Their continuous existence is even more so, especially since there’s no evidence that it was instigated from escaped gas or fluid.
The Question Remains
The region has soft and “fluffy” sediment. So, the movement of sea creatures and the currents may have led to these indents. Yet, this explanation isn’t sufficient. It isn’t enough to leave such a large impact. It’s speculated that it only accounts for one-third of the depressions.
The Californian ocean floor is indeed a peculiar region. There has been a lot of progress in terms of research over the last few decades. However, everything is still new. A lot more needs to be done to fully understand this situation.
Work in Progress
The MBARI discussed the research it found at an event in December 2019. The event was called the Fall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union. They claimed marine trash is partly responsible for the holes — at least 4,500 of the 15,000.
It provides some clues but not the overall picture. This idea is further elaborated on the MBARI website. The micro-depressions are said to be recent erosional features, not incipient pockmarks. The scope of research is plentiful.
A Matter of Endurance
There’s also the question of how long these micro-depressions will last. The ones created by garbage may not be able to endure the currents for long. If the situation changes, there’s a different way to look at this.
The cavities could be an indication of a geological period. To be specific, the Anthropocene period. This is the unofficial unit of the Earth’s physical structure. It’s used to describe the period where human activity began to impact the planet — in terms of both climate and ecosystems.
Life Prevails and Strives
Earth’s lifespan is split into large periods called epochs. It’s said that humankind just stepped into the Anthropocene epoch. Some believe we are still in the Holocene era. This age began around 11,650 years ago.
You’ll be surprised to know that some in the scientific community believe this, too. They believe humans are incapable of changing so much that they alter the epoch. However, it’s hard to deny that a new epoch is being witnessed. This is the consequence of brash actions.
A Mark of Remembrance or a Sign of Change
Regardless of the speculations, the overall scientific community seems to be in accord. Mankind is affecting Earth and not in all the right ways. These micro-depressions could be a clue that we’re in a new era. It may indicate that it’s time for a change.
Our actions and inactions have already left their mark, and there may be more to come. These indentations along the Californian seabed can be foreboding. If they continue to persist, we ought to be terrified as it’s a sign that a colossal change is about to come.