There are holes on the seabed. Scientists don’t know why.

Deep in the waters along a volcanic ridge at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, oceanographers use a remote-controlled vehicle to study largely unexplored deep-sea areas found a pattern of holes in the sand.

During the July 23 dive north of the Azores near mainland Portugal, at a depth of 1.6 miles, they saw about a dozen holes on the seabed that resembled a trail of lines.

Then, about a week later on Thursday, there were four more sightings on the Azores Plateau, an underwater area where three tectonic plates meet. These holes were about a mile deep and about 300 miles from the site of the expedition’s first discovery.

The scientists continue to ask this question themselves and the public in contributions Twitter and Facebook, is: what leaves these marks on the seabed?

“The origin of the holes has scientists baffled,” read the Twitter post from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Ocean Exploration Project. “The holes look like man-made, but the small piles of sediment around them suggest they were dug by…something.”

Nearly two decades ago, just about 27 miles from the site of the current expedition’s first sighting, scientists discovered similar holes during an exploration, said Emily Crum, a spokeswoman for NOAA.

But the passage of time hasn’t provided clear answers, said Michael Vecchione, a NOAA deep-sea biologist who took part in this project and is also involved in part of this latest expedition.

“There’s something important going on and we don’t know what it is,” said Dr. Vecchione. “It underscores the fact that there are still mysteries out there.”

The holes are just one of the questions scientists are studying on an ambitious ocean expedition while exploring the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, which is a section of a massive deep-sea mountain range that stretches more than 10,000 miles beneath the ocean.

NOAA experts are seeking answers during three expeditions they’re calling Voyage to the Ridge 2022, which began in May and will end in September, on voyages that will take them from the waters off Newport, RI, to the Azores and back to Puerto Rico in the Caribbean.

Explorers want to know what lives along the unbroken line of underwater volcanoes and what happens when geological processes that generate life-sustaining heat are stopped.

They pay particular attention to deep-sea coral and sponge communities, which are “some of the most valuable marine ecosystems on Earth,” said Derek Sowers, an expedition coordinator aboard NOAA ship Okeanos Explorer.

dr Sowers said expeditions like the Voyage of the Ridge projects are “fundamental” to gaining an understanding of the planet’s biodiversity and “the novel compounds being produced by all of these life forms.”

And they want to learn about areas where seawater is heated by magma, where deep-sea life draws energy from that source and chemicals, rather than from the sun like most life on Earth.

“This has increased our understanding of the conditions under which life can arise on other planets,” said Dr. sowers

After the agency turned to social media to engage the public, dozens of comments were poured in, some addressing speculation. Are the holes man made? Could they be an alien sign? Is it a mark left by a submarine? Could it be the breathing holes of a “Deep sea creature burrowing in the sand?”

That last guess wasn’t necessarily that far-fetched, said Dr. Vecchione. In an article about the holes discovered in 2004, Mr Vecchione and his co-author Odd Aksel Bergstad, a former researcher at the Institute for Marine Research in Norway, proposed two main hypotheses for the existence of the holes. Both were marine life that either walked or swam across the sediment and poked holes, or the reverse scenario, burrowing into the sediment and poking holes upwards.

The holes, seen Thursday, appeared to have been pushed out from below, Dr. Vecchione.

The remote-controlled vehicle’s suction device collected sediment samples to examine whether the holes contained an organism, said Dr. sowers

dr Vecchione said that while he was pleased to see the seafloor holes again, he was “a little disappointed” that scientists still lacked an explanation.

“It reinforces the idea that there’s a secret that we’re going to find out one day,” he said. “But we haven’t found out yet.”

One final dive, streamed live, remains to be completed on the second expedition in the series, Said NOAA. The third expedition begins on August 7th.

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