A ‘Yellow Brick Road’ at the Bottom of the Ocean?

It may not be the brick road to the lost city of Atlantis, but researchers at Hawaii’s Papahānaumokuakea Marine National Monument found…well, something on the ocean floor that defies Mother Nature’s prejudice against straight lines.

Footage from the team’s remote-operated submarine revealed the puzzling structure in early May. A team of 34 was exploring an undersea volcano chain (or “seamount”) in the research vessel E/V Nautilus. They were seeking answers to “a puzzling split” in its geography.

There, they found the so-called “bricks.” Approaching the formation, which appeared yellow under the submersible’s lights, one team member invoked the Wizard of Oz.


Soon, though, the scientific method overcame the researchers’ whimsical reactions.

“What may look like a ‘yellow brick road’ to the mythical city of Atlantis is really an example of ancient active volcanic geology,” the team wrote in the video caption. “At the summit of Nootka Seamount, the team spotted a ‘dried lake bed’ formation, now ID’ed as a fractured flow of hyaloclastite rock.” Hyaloclastite is a volcanic rock formed in high-energy eruptions in which rock fragments settle on the seabed)

The unique segmentation in the surface likely came from repeated heating and cooling during many volcanic eruptions over millions of years.

“Our exploration of this never-before-surveyed area is helping researchers take a deeper look at life on and within…these deep, ancient seamounts,” the researchers noted.

The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) helped fund the expedition. To learn more, check out the Nautilus Live website.

Sam Anderson

Sam Anderson spent his 20s as an adventure rock climber, scampering throughout the western U.S., Mexico, and Thailand to scope out prime stone and great stories. Life on the road gradually transformed into a seat behind the keyboard, where he acted as a founding writer of the AllGear Digital Newsroom and earned 1,500+ bylines in four years on topics from pro rock climbing to slingshots and scientific breakthroughs.