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More than 20,000 seamounts larger than 1 km form a biome covering an area equivalent to the size of Europe, but only a few dozen have been ever been extensively studied. Seamounts are the largest biome and physiographic feature on Earth that remains nearly unexplored.

Yet, seamounts play a key role in our understanding of Earth’s chemical, physical and biological system, e.g.:

• Seamounts yield key insights into plate motions and the dynamics and chemical evolution of Earth’s mantle.
• Seamounts are recognized to act as “stirring rods” that help mix the oceans.
• Seamounts are biological hotspots that act like “species factories” and produce massive fisheries.

Important questions remaining are what are the potential sustainable yields of seamount fisheries and what is their role in global protein production for a rapidly growing world population. Seamounts remain rich targets for future research and exploration, with high expected yields for science and society.

Research Coordination Network

Seamount research is in the early stages of integration. Anthony Koppers is Co-Director of an NSF network to build
awareness of the spectrum of seamount sciences through the extensive online Seamount Database, workshops, and
other activities. A special issue of Oceanography, ‘Mountains in the Sea,’ for which Koppers was co-editor, raises awareness of and promotes collaboration among seamount scientists, including those in seamount chemistry, physics,
geology, hydrology, oceanography, biology, and fisheries.

Koppers says of the special volume, “People started to realize how bountiful a resource seamounts are. This is one of the top ten biomes in the world, and we do not know how to deal with its fisheries, for example, in a sustainable way.”

The next need for the international community of researchers is to formulate key questions in seamount research, particularly across discipline boundaries, and form investigative working groups.

IODP Seamount Cruise

Understanding the nature of mantle plumes is a critical goal of modern Earth sciences. To date, studies of the Hawaiian–Emperor Seamount Trail have dominated thinking about hotspot volcanism. As a consequence, models for
construction and evolution of intraplate volcanoes, plate motion, and hotspot motion are strongly biased toward the
Hawaiian hotspot. Without comparable data from any other important hotspot trail, key questions remain unanswered.

Koppers is lead scientist for IODP Expedition 330 along the Louisville hotspot trail, starting in mid-December,
2010. New results from this expedition, together with data from other hotspot trails, provide the best opportunity to
assess the importance of the motion between hotspots and true polar wander. These data, in turn, will provide valuable information about Earth’s convection regime and will allow for a crucial calibration of current mantle flow models and global plate circuit reconstructions.

Article courtesy of the College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences 2010 Research Highlights

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