Mysterious Seafloor Holes Stump Ocean Scientists

NOAA's ocean explorers spotted these regular, perforation-like holes in the seafloor.
. Photo: NOAA

Scientists have discovered a series of mysterious holes on the Atlantic Ocean floor and asked internet users to offer their theories as to how these holes were formed.

During Dive 04 of the second Voyage to the Ridge 2022 expedition, we observed several sublinear sets of holes in the sediment on the seafloor at a depth of approximately 2,540 meters (1.6 miles). While the holes look almost human made, the little piles of sediment around them suggest they had been excavated. 

We attempted but were not able to take a peek into the holes and poke them with the tools on the remotely operated vehicle. It was also not apparent as to whether the holes were connected beneath the sediment surface.

NOAA invited the public to come up with a possible solution to the mystery.

Scientists are not certain as to the origin of these holes, so we put it out to followers on social media platforms such as Twitter  and Facebook , to see what hypotheses members of the public might have as to how these holes formed. We got a variety of responses, from aliens to an unknown crab species to gas rising up from below the seafloor…and more.

This was not, however, the first time that scientists had encountered these mysterious holes. In July 2004, while exploring at a depth of 2,082 meters (6,831 feet) during an expedition along the northern Mid-Atlantic Ridge, scientists discovered several sets of these holes.

A paper by scientists Michael Vecchione and Odd Aksel Bergstad  highlights how these unusual holes point to gaps that exist in our basic understanding of mid-ocean ridge ecosystems. In the paper, the scientists address some of the hypotheses shared on social media.

While Vecchione and Bergstad were not able to definitively determine the source of the holes or how they were constructed, they hypothesize that the raised sediment may indicate excavation by an organism living in the sediment or digging and removal, perhaps via a feeding appendage of a large animal on the sediment surface. 

They used the term “lebensspuren” to describe the holes, which translates to “life traces” and refers to patterns in surface sediments resulting from bioturbation (or the disturbance of sediment by living organisms). These lebensspuren are reminiscent of ichnofossils reported from deep marine rocks.

The ultimate origin of the holes still remains a mystery and indeed the unknowns we encounter are often as deep and mysterious as the ocean itself. With each expedition to map and explore ocean depths, however, we learn more about this ecosystem that is so vital to all of our lives.


The above story is based on materials provided by NOAA Ocean Exploration.

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