"City" of Ancient Rock Found at Bottom of Atlantic Ocean

July 13, 2001

More than 2,000 years ago, the Greek philosopher Plato wrote about a splendid city named Atlantis, with fertile soil and glorious temples, that "in a single day and night of misfortune…disappeared into the depths of the sea."

Now, researchers probing the ocean bottom have found 18-story-high towers of stone deep in the ocean near a section of volcanic fault ridges that extend for 6,200 miles along the Atlantic Ocean floor.

The majestic height of the two dozen stone structures and their location on a seafloor mountain named Atlantis Massif inspired the scientists to name the area "Lost City," in honor of the fabled, flooded city referred to by Plato.

The underwater stone spirals are unusual for their composition and location. Scientists think they may offer a glimpse into the earliest environment of Earth, when life began, and may host as yet undiscovered forms of life.

"It was clear these were unlike anything we'd ever seen before," said Deborah Kelley, an oceanographer at the University of Washington. She was one of three people who traveled to the newly discovered underworld in a submersible vessel.

Mountain With "Fingers"

Researchers have found in volcanic cracks on areas of the ocean floor about 100 underwater vent systems composed of mineral deposits. Colonies of strange, primitive creatures, including blood-red tubeworms and large clams, feed on nutrients leached by hot, dissolving gas from the vents.

But this network of stone is unique. Instead of being formed around volcanic vents, the stone structures are about nine miles from the cracks. The towers extend like groping fingers above Atlantis Massif, a submerged mountain about the size of Mt. Ranier in Washington State.

Jeff Karson, an oceanographer who explored the area with Kelley, said: "If this were on land, this would be a national park."

The Lost City is also strikingly bright—brighter than the usual conditions in which things can generally be seen using artificial light a half-mile below sea level.

Although other rock formations around volcanic ridges have appeared black, the newly discovered formations are gleaming white because they are made up of materials similar to those of pale concrete, such as carbonate minerals and silica. Kelley, the lead author of a report on the formations in the July 12 issue of Nature, said the steep-sided towers of rock blossom into feathery ledges of precipitated stone that sprawl outwards for as wide as 30 feet.

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