The mystery of the sonar blip near the Titanic was solved after 26 years

Sign up for CNN’s Wonder Theory science newsletter. Explore the universe with news about fascinating discoveries, scientific breakthroughs and more.


The wreck of the Titanic lies in two parts at the bottom of the North Atlantic Ocean, slowly sinking almost 4,000 meters (13,000 feet) below the surface, but it is not alone. A sonar repeat captured some 26 years ago has now revealed that there is much more to this underwater area than previously thought.

PH Nargeolet, a veteran Nautile submarine pilot and Titanic diver, originally received the blip from the echo sounder equipment in 1996, but its provenance has been unknown.

During an expedition to the Titanic wreck earlier this year, Nargeolet and four other researchers went to the location of the previously recorded blip in search of the mysterious object it represented. Due to the magnitude of the blip, Nargeolet thought he was looking for another shipwreck; instead, he found a rocky reef, made up of various volcanic formations, and thriving with lobsters, deep-sea fish, sponges, and several species of coral that numbered in the thousands. of the years

“It’s biologically fascinating. The animals that live there are very different from those that live in the deep ocean,” said Murray Roberts, a professor of marine biology and applied ecology at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland and one of the researchers on the expedition. “(Nargeolet) did very important scientific work. He thought it was a shipwreck, and, in my opinion, it happened even more amazing than a shipwreck.’

The abyssal plain is the term used to describe the ocean floor between 3,000 and 4,000 meters (about 12,000 feet), which makes up 60 percent of the Earth’s surface, according to Roberts. It is thought to be a featureless, muddy seabed without much structure. On several occasions, divers have seen rock formations on the plain. Since the recent discovery near the Titanic, Roberts now believes that these features may be more common than previously thought.

The rocky terrain may also help explain the distances sponges and corals travel across the ocean floor, which has long been a mystery to scientists. Within the muddy environment in which they are normally found, there are few hard surfaces for these species to grow and reproduce.

“Sometimes they appear in places where we think: ‘Well, how did they get there? They don’t live long enough to get there,” Roberts said. “But if there are more of these rocky places, these steps, than we thought, I think it could help us understand the distribution of these species across the ocean.”

The researchers are working to analyze images and videos taken on the reef during the dive, and plan to share their findings to improve the scientific community’s collective knowledge of life in the deep sea. Roberts hopes to link this discovery to a broader Atlantic Ocean ecosystem project he leads, called iAtlantic, which will allow him to study and protect the fragile ecosystem within the reef.

There is another sonar blip near the Titanic that Nargeolet hopes to identify on a future expedition. It was recorded during the same survey he did years ago, between the Titanic wreck and the recently covered reef – now named Nargeolet-Fanning Ridge in honor of him and the 2022 expedition mission specialist Oisín Fanning. Nargeolet hopes that everything will be bigger than this reef.

OceanGate Expeditions and its foundation – which, along with Fanning, funded the Nargeolet dive this year – will continue their long-term research work on the Titanic and its surroundings in 2023.

“The marine life … was so beautiful. It was really incredible because I never expected to see anything like that in my life,” Nargeolet said. “I’ll be very happy to keep looking at the Titanic.”