Sealed in our submersible, DeepSee, we wait, watching the crew on Argo’s deck shout orders to each other—a movie without a sound track. Then we are untied, drifting, a tiny dot on the immense Pacific Ocean. Pilot Avi Klapfer floods the ballast tanks, and we sink, surrounded by bubbles. It’s like falling into a glass of champagne, and we feel appropriately giddy. A diver pokes through the bubbles to make a final adjustment to the camera housing mounted on the outside of the sub. Out there with the camera are hydraulics, thrusters, and hundreds of other essential parts that will keep us safe.
Three of us—Klapfer, photographer Brian Skerry, and I—are crammed insideDeepSee’s five-foot sphere, surrounded by communication equipment, pressure valves, controls, snacks, cameras, special bags to urinate in: everything we need for our quest to reach a seamount named Las Gemelas. Its cluster of peaks, rarely seen up close before, rises from the bottom of the Pacific near Cocos Island, 300 miles southwest of Cabo Blanco in Costa Rica. The highest peak here is more than 7,500 feet tall.
Seamounts generally form when volcanic mountains rise up from the seafloor but fail to reach the surface (those that break the surface become islands). Scientists estimate that there are some 100,000 seamounts at least one kilometer (3,281 feet) high. But if you include others that range from small hills to rolling mountains, there may be as many as a million of them.