‘Road to Atlantis’ Discovered on Seafloor Is Not Road to Atlantis

‘Road to Atlantis’ Discovered on Seafloor Is Not Road to Atlantis
The road to Atlantis is apparently paved with igneous rock. (Image: Ocean Exploration Trust/NOAA)

After a scientific expedition released video of what looks an awful lot like a brick path on the seafloor, the New York Post asked, “Have researchers found an undersea road to the lost city of Atlantis?” No, of course they haven’t. But they did find a neat natural phenomenon linked to underwater volcanoes.

Researchers aboard the E/V Nautilus made the sighting on April 23 while piloting a remotely operated sub at the Nootka Seamount in the Pacific Ocean, northwest of Hawaii. After collecting rock samples using the ROV’s mechanical arms, they descended to a depth of over 3,375 feet (1,029 meters) — and that’s when they spotted the unusually geometric structure.

The team was absolutely baffled by the sighting. “The yellow brick road?” one of them suggests in the video’s real-time narration. “It’s the road to Atlantis!” another jokes.

Actually, the “road” is hyaloclastite rock, according to a fact sheet from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Ocean Exploration Trust. This type of rock is formed from the lava of high-energy volcanic eruptions, which rapidly cools when it makes contact with ocean water. The team, who originally suspected it was the remnants of a dried lake bed, thinks that the stress from the rapid cooling process could be the reason for the 90-degree cracks that give the rock deposit its brick-like appearance.

At the time the team spotted the rock feature, the E/V Nautilus was on a NOAA-funded expedition in the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, an expanse of open ocean dotted with a few islands, reefs, and atolls. Scientists aboard the vessel were investigating the biodiversity of underwater hotspots and collecting rock samples from the ocean floor.

Nautilus wrapped up the expedition at the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument earlier this month and is now embarking on the Ocean Exploration Cooperative Institute Technology Integration expedition, during which scientists will test ways to explore the ocean without human intervention.