The oil company BP have discovered more than two thousand naturally-occurring asphalt mounds just off the coast of Angola while looking for new oil reserves. These structures have previously been found in the Gulf of Mexico and in the waters near California, although they have not been studied in great detail. This is the first time they have been spotted on this side of the Atlantic Ocean, and a thorough investigation of their composition has been carried out.
2254 asphalt mounds were registered using underwater robots in an area of 3.7 kilometres of seabed or in other words, a (potential) small town. Photographic material was later sent to a team of scientists at the National Oceanography Centre in Southampton for examination, and their findings were published in the journal Deep-Sea Research 1.
Although naturally formed, the mounds are made up of the same material that covers our roads and they come in various shapes and sizes; for example, some could be comparable in size to a football, whereas others to a small hill of several hundred metres in diameter.
The wonderful thing about these structures is the sheer amount of biodiversity they harbour. Many of them come with at least 21 different types of deep-sea creatures living within or around them, including soft-corals, sponges, fish, octopuses, and sea cucumbers. This means there are in fact more species than researchers would normally expect to find subsisting in similar areas of the ocean, which contributes important data to improve their future ability to predict the levels of biodiversity.
Daniel Jones, who was leading the study, said: ‘This exciting discovery was a great example of collaboration between oil companies and marine scientists. By working together as a team, we used the industrial data and expertise to get a much better understanding of these important systems, which will be of great value both to the scientists, but also to the BP environmental management teams.’
Reference article: Phys.org