What Are All These Balls Littering the Sea Floor of the Atlantic Ocean?

Manganese nodule. (Image: Wikipedia)
Manganese nodule. (Image: Wikipedia)

A large number of metallic nodules have been discovered on the sea floor of the Atlantic Ocean between Africa and South America. Scientists found them while trawling for deep sea creatures in about 16,400 to 18,000 feet of water.

Manganese nodules on the sea floor in the Atlantic       Image: Nils Brenke

Manganese nodules on the sea floor of the Atlantic Ocean (Image: Nils Brenke)


The German research ship the RV Sonne was trawling the sea floor when they noticed their nets were getting caught up on something. Once the mesh nets were pulled up, balls of manganese ore that were bigger then softballs, along with some the size of bowling balls, were found instead of the deep sea creatures they were expecting. A remote camera was used to reveal that the sea floor was littered with these round manganese nodules.

“I was surprised, because this is generally not the place you think of for manganese nodules,”said Colin Devey, chief scientist for the expedition and a volcanologist at the GEOMAR Helmholtz Center for Ocean Research in Kiel, Germany, in a press release. Devey went on to say:

This is the largest patch of manganese nodules ever found in the Atlantic.


Manganese nodules cut in half Image: Thomas Walter

Manganese nodules cut in half. (Image: Thomas Walter)


Manganese nodules grow at the slow rate about one inch every million years, and are made up of manganese hydroxide (and other metals, including zinc, copper, iron, and cobalt). It slowly crystallizes around fragments on the ocean floor like rocks or fossils.

”Manganese nodules are found in all oceans. But the largest deposits are known to occur in the Pacific Ocean. Nodules of this size and density in the Atlantic are not known,” Devey explained.

The largest nodules found by the R/V Sonne scientists could be as old as 10 million years. Because the spheres are so old, they could provide a record of past climate change, Devey said.

Watch this video about mining manganese nodules.

“This discovery shows us how little we know of the seabed of the abyssal ocean, and how many exciting discoveries are still waiting for us,” added Angelika Brandt from the University of Hamburg. “At this station, very few organisms were found in the nets which captured the manganese nodules. It is quite possible that living creatures find the immediate vicinity of the nodules quite inhospitable. The second haul with the epibenthic sled at this station, which sampled over a continuous manganese crust with a thick layer of sediment on top, was quite different. Here, the net collected many organisms which we were able to see with the naked eye, and we are already looking forward to the analysis of this sample.”

I’m sure the ocean has a lot more surprise’s yet. Discoveries of this nature can only help us understand the world a little better.

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