Home Page Science Frontiers

No. 97: Jan-Feb 1995

Issue Contents

Other pages

Other Interesting Sites











The earth's most common topographical feature: abyssal hills

Typical depth profiles revealing the dimensions of the abyssal hills
Typical depth profiles revealing the dimensions of the abyssal hills; the earth's most common but least understood terrain.
All of the continents put together do not cover even half the area occupied by the abyssal hills, which dominate 60-70% of our planet's surface. We hear a lot about the endless steppes of Asia and the immensity of the Sahara, but who writes about the earth's dominant geomorphological feature? The abyssal hills are left out of the textbooks because so little is known about them. They are hidden under 3 kilometers of water. Individual abyssal hills rise 100-2,000 meters from the ocean floor; they are about 7-15 kilometers across; their lengths are not well known. We know them mainly from fathometer readings. If we could see them visually, they would probably look like the Appalachians from an airplane; that is, wash-board-like. Although heavily draped with pelagic sediments, the abyssal hills are believed to have been shaped by faulting and volcanic activity. K. MacDonald and coworkers at the University of California, Santa Barbara, now believe that both processes are involved:

"On the basis of data obtained last January on a series of dives along the East Pacific Rise (EPR), a ridge that runs off the coast of Central and South America, researchers theorize that the linear ridges of abyssal hills, which decorate the ocean floor somewhat like ribs on a washboard, are formed by an interplay between both volcanic eruptions and faulting action."

(Anonymous; "Geologists Offer New Theory on Origin of Abyssal Hills," Eos, 75:234, 1994. Background source: Fairbridge, Rhodes W., ed.,; The Encyclopedia of Oceanography, New York, 1966.)

Comment. But why would 60-70% of the earth's surface be wrinkled like this? The theory proposed above is too general to be very helpful.

From Science Frontiers #97, JAN-FEB 1995. 1995-2000 William R. Corliss

Science Frontiers Sourcebook Project Reviewed in:


  • "A sourcebook of unexplained phenomena is therefore a valuable addition to a collection of scientific literature. William R. Corliss has provided this in the past with his source books of scientific anomalies in several subjects, and now he has provided it for astronomy. He has done an excellent job of collecting and editing a large amount of material, taken in part from scientific journals and in part from scientific reporting in the popular or semi-scientific press." -- "The Mysterious Universe: A Handbook of Astronomical Anomalies", reviwed by Thomas Gold, Cornell University, in Icarus, vol.41, 1980

  • "An interesting, systematic presentation of unusual weather [..] This book is recommended for a general audience" --"Corliss, William R., Tornados, Dark Days, Anomalous Precipitation, and Related Weather Phenomena, Sourcebook Project, 1983.", revieweed in Choice, September 1983
  • "..the science is necessarily somewhat speculative, but Corliss's symthesis is based on reputable sources." -- "Corliss, William R. (Compiler). Lightning, Auroras, Nocturnal Lights, and Related Luminous Phenomena" reviwed by Joseph M. Moran, Univ. of Wisconsin in Science Books and Films, Sep/Oct 1983

  • "Before opening the book, I set certain standards that a volume which treads into dangerous grounds grounds like this must meet. The author scrupulously met, or even exceeded those standards. Each phenomenon is exhaustively documented, with references to scientific journals [..] and extensive quotations" -- "Book Review: The moon and planets: a catalog of astronomical anomalies", The Sourcebook Project, 1985., Corliss, W. R., Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 81, no. 1 (1987), p. 24., 02/1987