Oil company BP recently discovered natural asphalt mounds that hold a mysterious ecosystem off the coast of Angola.
The mounds range from the size of a football to a small hill and are formed from hydrocarbons migrating across subsurface salt structures. A research team noticed at least 21 types of life in these structures, including soft sponges, octopi and fish.
BP discovered the mounds as it looked for oil reserves off the coast of Angola. Its initial seabed scans revealed unusual structures that diving robots later investigated.
Side-scan sonar revealed 2,254 mounds in an area about the size of a small town. BP technical experts sent the images to scientists in Southampton, England, in what is a "long-running collaboration" between the oil industry and marine scientists at the National Oceanography Centre, according to HNGN.
"This exciting discovery was a great example of collaboration between oil companies and marine scientists. By working together as a team, we used the industrial data and expertise to get a much better understanding of these important systems, which will be of great value both to the scientists, but also to the BP environmental management teams," said Daniel Jones, of the National Oceanography Centre, the lead author of the study.
The finding could help researchers gain insight into marine biodiversity because this is the first time asphalt mounds have been able to be studied in such great detail.