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Scientists from the University of Aberdeen have used cutting-edge imaging techniques to reveal a spectacular 'Tolkienesque' landscape buried deep beneath the sea off southern Australia.

Researchers have likened the hidden volcanic landscape to illustrations of the evil realm of Mordor in Lord of the Rings, with jagged peaks and outcrops that have never been seen before now.

The research team, consisting of a team from the University of Adelaide, University of Aberdeen and Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) used newly acquired 3-D seismic reflection data to map the landscape, which is buried deep underneath sediment on the sea floor.

They found 26 ancient, buried lava flows that measure up to 34 km in length and 15 km in width, along with a multitude of ancient volcanoes up to 625m in height.  These were created as a result of volcanic eruptions that took place under the sea some 35 million years ago.

The data, which is published in the American Geophysical Union Journal, is now being used to improve our understanding of how volcanoes evolve when they erupt underwater.

Dr Nick Schofield, from the University of Aberdeen’s School of Geosciences, co-authored the study.

He said: “By using data acquired as part of oil exploration efforts, we have been able to map these ancient lava flows in unprecedented detail, revealing a spectacular volcanic landscape that bring to mind illustrations from Lord of the Rings.

“Submarine lava flows are inherently more difficult to study than their counterparts on the Earth’s surface due to their inaccessibility, and the technology we have used is similar in many ways to what is used to produce ultrasound images of babies, but for the Earth. 

“By using this technique, we have a unique insight into a landscape that has remained hidden for millions of years, highlighting the growing importance of seismic data in studying submarine volcanism.”

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