Reading the ridges: Are climate and the seafloor connected?

At the bottom of every ocean basin lies a chain of submarine mountains. Blanketed in black, pillowy basalt, they tower more than a thousand meters above the seafloor and snake for thousands of kilometers. But instead of having a central spine, like a terrestrial mountain range, these mid-ocean ridges have a central trough from hundreds to thousands of meters wide. This is where — in fiery bursts — new oceanic crust is born.

Recently, these spreading centers have also become the focus of a wide-ranging investigation into possible links between the deep Earth and the ephemeral changes on its surface — namely, whether mid-ocean ridge volcanoes respond to variations in sea level, and whether those volcanoes might influence the climate changes that control sea level. An intense debate over these questions erupted last year, when scientists made a stunning discovery about abyssal hills, the parallel ridges that corrugate vast swaths of the seafloor.

Read the full story in EARTH Magazine.

Scientists debate the relative roles of seafloor faulting and volcanism in producing abyssal hills. (Credit: Jean-Arthur Olive)