Brazil’s Lost Tropical Island

Fernando de Noronha Island is a tropical Brazilian island in the Atlantic that’s a bit easier to visit. Photo: Nido Huebl/Shutterstock

Brazil’s Lost Tropical Island

A team of British and Brazilian scientists has discovered a sunken volcanic island off the coast of Brazil. The size of Iceland, this island was likely lush with vegetation, rivers, and waterfalls, and it was surrounded by beaches and wave-cut platforms, making it an ideal spot for scuba diving. Unfortunately, it now rests 600 meters below the Atlantic Ocean’s surface, rendering its marvels inaccessible.

The discovery occurred during a seafloor survey around the massive volcanic plateau known as the Rio Grande Rise. Using an underwater remotely operated vehicle (ROV), the scientists, led by Bramley Murton of the National Oceanographic Centre in Southampton, transmitted images back to their boat. They observed layers of unusual red clay, which Murton described as resembling tropical soils rather than typical seabed deposits.

Scientists have unveiled a submerged volcanic island, roughly the size of Iceland, hidden deep beneath the Atlantic Ocean off Brazil’s coast. Covered in lush vegetation, rivers, and waterfalls and surrounded by beaches and wave-cut platforms, this island could have been a prime scuba diving spot, but now rests 600 meters underwater, leaving its potential secrets untapped.

This extraordinary find was made by a joint British and Brazilian research team while surveying the seafloor around the vast mid-ocean volcanic plateau known as the Rio Grande Rise. Using an underwater remotely operated vehicle (ROV), the team received images of unusual red clay layers, unlike typical seabed deposits. “You just don’t find red clay sand on the seabed. The deposits looked like tropical soils,” commented Bramley Murton, a marine geologist from the National Oceanographic Centre in Southampton and co-author of the study.

Further analysis in the laboratory confirmed the unique composition of the samples, indicating that they originated from an open-air environment with exposure to tropical conditions. Intriguingly, the chemical and mineral makeup of these samples matched the red earth found across various regions of Brazil.

“Imagine a lush tropical island slipping beneath the waves and lying frozen in time,” Murton mused. The island’s descent into the ocean depths is part of a long geological saga. Originating from the mid-Atlantic Ridge about 80 million years ago, the Rio Grande Rise slowly drifted westward towards Brazil. Approximately 40 million years ago, a final burst of volcanic activity from its western edge likely formed the island before it sank beneath the waves once more.

However, this sunken island, located far out in international waters, represents more than just a fascinating geological tale. The minerals it contains, along with those in the rest of the Rio Grande Rise, are potentially valuable, capturing the interest of various governments. This has led the Brazilian government to apply to the United Nations for an extension of its maritime borders, including the Rio Grande Rise. To achieve this, Brazilian authorities need to demonstrate that the geological characteristics of both the Rio Grande Rise and the sunken island are consistent with those found in Brazil. The recent discoveries lend substantial support to this claim, highlighting the similarity in mineral and geological compositions.

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