Located south of the Hawaiian Islands, Chautauqua Seamount and the un-named seamount chain comprises seven seamounts measuring between 15 and 25 kilometers across and rising more than 2 kilometers from the 4-kilometer deep abyssal seafloor. Aside from sparse bathymetric and geophysical surveys, these underwater mountains are unsurveyed by ROVs or high-resolution seafloor mapping. Over the course of 12 days, we will generate high-quality bathymetric maps to identify dive targets as well as conduct ROV dives and collect geological samples for later geochemical analysis. As we move into this region, we acknowledge generations of indigenous Hawaiians and today’s stewards of these lands and waters.
The expedition name -- Luʻuaeaahikiikekualonokai -- represents the journey to and the work in the kualono kai, or the sea ridges in the Chautauqua seamounts. Located south of the Hawaiian Islands, the seamounts may hold key information to deepen our understanding of Hawaiʻiʻs volcanic history. Moreover, like a kualono, or ridge that offers protection to those within its domain, the Chautauqua seamounts offer important marine habitats that protect various ocean organisms.
The geologic origin of the Chautauqua seamounts remains a question for researchers, and there are several theories including arch volcanism and formation from the Hawaiian mantle plume. As seamount chains provide important markers to paleo-tectonic reconstructions, understanding the origin of the Chautauqua chain through geochemical analyses based on rock samples collected with the ROV will have significant implications. Further, the age of the seamounts presents important context for the abundance and grade of rare metals contained in ferromanganese crusts. The Chautauqua Seamount chain also represents a marine habitat significant to multiple scientific questions, from understanding their role in the genetic flow across ocean habitats to identifying unique evolutionary strategies for benthic organisms that call this area home.
This expedition is sponsored by NOAA Ocean Exploration through the Ocean Exploration Cooperative Institute.