A cluster of really big structures detected by sonar at a depth of about 6,200 feet in the Gulf of Mexico recently intrigued NOAA and Texas A&M Galveston researchers -- could it be a shipwreck? Three shipwrecks had previously been found in the area -- about 170 miles off the coast of Galveston.
They steered their remotely operated vehicle, Deep Discoverer (D2) to scope it out. What they would discover was no historical wreck, but flower-like rock formations created by unique undersea eruptions.
Here, the D2 approaches one of the odd structures.
D2's cameras revealed the odd, elegant structures that were shaped like over-sized flowers. The petal-like rock formations appeared over dozens of cracks and fissures on the ocean floor. The so-called "tar lilies" are created by asphalt volcanoes.
Ancient oil reservoirs ooze from the ocean floor, also pushing out mud, shale and salt. As they come in contact with the cold sea water, volatiles dissolve and the asphalt hardens into the unique, twisty shapes.
The hard surfaces of the tar lilies offer home base to many creatures. Here, chemosynthetic tube worms are visible at the site. The worms likely feed on bacteria that, in turn, munch on the oil.
Other tar volcanoes, which reached 10 feet tall and 20 feet wide, were seen hosting thriving communities of corals and anemones. These creatures allowed scientists to estimate the age of the features to be tens to hundreds of years old.
The discovery of the tar volcanoes proved as fascinating as recent shipwreck finds in the area. Here you can see an anchor from the site of one of three shipwrecks found earlier in about 4,300 feet of water some 150 to 170 miles off Galveston.
Researchers believe the wrecks may have belonged to privateers and sunk about 200 hundreds years ago.