Seamount discovered beneath Arctic

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Carmel teacher Christine Hedge never dreamed of helping to discover a mountain on the floor of the Arctic Ocean when she boarded the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy early last month.

Learning to sleep through the constant chirping of the echo-sounding instruments that aid in such discoveries was unthinkable enough.

But on a cold day in late August, Hedge — taking part in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Teacher at Sea program — ended up in the right place at the right time.

And Thursday, it earned the 51-year-old a bit of fame during a conference call with U.S. and Canadian government officials and journalists.

She was to talk from the Healy during the call, but the satellite signal kept dropping when she was to speak.

“We were traveling over a flat plain and having a very uneventful watch,” Hedge recalled via e-mail after the call. “At lunch time, I stayed to man the watch station while others went to eat.

Suddenly, everything happened at once.

“The phone rang twice with a request to deploy a sonobuoy, the radio reported a change in course, and the computers showed a sudden change in water depth,” she continued. “It looked like the feature we were passing over might be missed if we did not redirect the ship.”

Hedge alerted the Healy’s co-chief scientist, and a decision was made to change course.

“The feature slowly unfolded before our eyes on the computer screen,” she said in her blog Aug. 25. “It got taller and taller, and excitement grew as people realized this might be over 1,000 meters tall.”

What the crew found was an underwater mountain or “seamount” 3,609 feet, or 1,100 meters, tall. Any land mass that juts more than 1,000 meters from the ocean floor is called a seamount and can be named, although that’s usually a long process.

The only indication of the seamount before the Healy’s excursion was a 2002 Russian map that showed a “bump” in the middle of a flat plain. Indeed, the Healy confirmed that the sea floor around the seamount is flat, making its existence all the more remarkable.