NOAA searching the Gulf of Mexico for a sunken ship discovers “tar lilies” instead

ROV Deep Discoverer approaches the first "tar lily."
ROV Deep Discoverer approaches the first "tar lily."

On April 24, NOAA’s Okeanos Explorer went to the Gulf of Mexico to investigate what appeared to be a sunken ship.

NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer berthed at the NOAA Ford Island facility located in the middle of Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Image courtesy of NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research.
Okeanos Explorer at Ford Island. (NOAA)

What they found was something old and natural, “tar lillies.”

NOAA used their remotely operated vehicle, Deep Discoverer (D2), to reach the seafloor 1,900 meters down.

D2’s cameras showed large asphalt structures that were rounded and smooth. The researchers say it looked as if it was squeezed out of a tube.

Asphalt volcanoes have seen in the Gulf of Mexico by German researchers in 2004. NOAA’s discovery shows that there is an asphalt ecosystem across the Gulf.

Octocoral growing on "tar lily"
Octocoral growing on “tar lily”

After documenting the first asphalt extrusion, D2 investigated a second sonar anomaly which turned out to be another tar lily.

Because the first asphalt extrusion had a number of corals and anemones colonizing it, the scientists could approximate the age of the formation in the order of tens to hundreds of years old.

Researchers say the asphalt volcano appears to be dormant, but because of the size of the structures believe there may be more asphalt that could surface in the future.

Second "tar lily".
Second “tar lily”.

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