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Deep Scattering Layer: The Truth About Ocean's Mysterious 'False Bottom'

Martin Wiggo Johnson, a research associate at the Scripps University of Oceanography, postulated the phenomenon is a 'deep scattering layer' of deep-sea creatures. (Image for representation/Shuterstock)

Martin Wiggo Johnson, a research associate at the Scripps University of Oceanography, postulated the phenomenon is a 'deep scattering layer' of deep-sea creatures. (Image for representation/Shuterstock)

The “deep scattering layer” of a plethora of jellyfish, shrimps, bony fish, and other deep-sea creatures living in closed species colonies.

Our oceans are nothing but massive cavities filled with mysteries and secrets, similar to space. It is believed that as of now, humans have only discovered the tip of the iceberg, which is just 10% when quantified. The number is even less if you take technology out of the picture.

In a myriad of mysteries that still awaits resolution, there is one mystery that has been of interest for researchers before technology helped them decipher it. The term given to the mysterious phenomenon is ‘Phantom Bottoms.’ In the late 40s, Sonar, a device used by submarines and ships to, technically, see under deep waters, became standard US military equipment. Navy Ships, while safeguarding oceans, used to detect unexpected signals coming from the oceans.

These discoveries were spotted at a place where no seafloor would actually exist. On top of that, making these findings more mind-boggling was that it moved – at day hours, the supposed seabed had a steady reading, but it rose above as the night fell. It was a mystery that was gradually turning into a security threat during the Second World War.

Putting the minds of the troops and the policymakers at rest, Martin Wiggo Johnson, a research associate at the Scripps University of Oceanography, postulated a possible solution to this mystery turned threat. He observed that the ‘phantom bottoms,’ that keep posing themselves as sunken islands, are nothing but a “deep scattering layer” of a plethora of jellyfish, shrimps, bony fish, and other deep-sea creatures living in closed species colonies. Then, as the night comes, these creatures rise up to warmer surface waters to feed themselves. His findings were supported by his fieldwork that upended the original perception.

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Johnson’s findings acted as a commencement to the exploration projects piercing into the ‘Twilight Zone’ of the ocean, scientifically known as the Mesopelagic Zone. Scientists have divided the depths of oceans into five zones – Epipelagic Zone (650ft), Mesopelagic Zone (650-3,300ft), Bathypelagic Zone (3,300-13,000ft), Abyssopelagic Zone (13,000-20,000ft), and the Hadopelagic Zone (below 20,000-40,000ft). To put things in perspective, Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world, is about 2800 ft.

Another interesting aspect of these ‘phantom bottoms’ is that their formation is not an accidental phenomenon but an intentional effort made by these Mesopelagic beings. The reason for which is still unknown to humans.

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first published:July 29, 2021, 20:52 IST