Many mysteries persist in the ocean’s depths, but MBARI’s pioneering technology is revealing secrets in these midnight waters. Using a suite of mapping instruments, MBARI is shedding new light on Sur Ridge, a large underwater geologic feature located about 60 kilometers (37 miles) from Monterey and 30 kilometers (19 miles) off Point Sur. This rocky ridge rises 500 meters (1,640 feet) above the seafloor and is a hotspot for marine life.

In December 2013, researchers from MBARI and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) embarked on a six-day research cruise to document life on the floor of Monterey Canyon. The team found themselves ahead of schedule and opted to venture further down the coast to survey Sur Ridge, an area of the seafloor largely unstudied at the time. As MBARI’s remotely operated vehicle (ROV) Doc Ricketts approached, its cameras revealed lush gardens of corals and sponges atop the rugged ridge.

During this special event on Wednesday, June 30, 2021 at 11:00 a.m. (Pacific), audiences dove behind the scenes of MBARI’s expedition to Sur Ridge during our inaugural Live from the Deep virtual event. Watch the recording here to see stunning footage of the deep seafloor, hear from experts at MBARI, Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, and Monterey Bay Aquarium, and find out what it’s really like to have a career exploring the deep ocean.

Subsequent trips have allowed MBARI researchers to deploy a variety of tools to better our understanding of Sur Ridge. This site is relatively close to shore and serves as a model for studying deep-water seamount ecosystems. Thousands of seamounts arise from the floor of the Pacific Ocean, but most are poorly studied.

Sur Ridge bears many similarities to Davidson Seamount located to the southwest. While smaller in size and closer to shore, Sur Ridge is home to many of the same species, like enormous, knobby corals and vase-like sponges. Both Sur Ridge and Davidson Seamount are oases of life compared to the flat, muddy plains surrounding them, and both are vulnerable to impacts from humans, including fishing pressure and climate change.

Over the last two decades, Sur Ridge and Davidson Seamount have been regular targets of MBARI expeditions, often in close collaboration with scientists from the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. MBARI’s research proved instrumental in raising public awareness of the thriving, yet fragile, coral communities on Davidson Seamount. Thanks to public support, in 2008 the sanctuary’s boundaries were expanded to protect Davidson Seamount. Sur Ridge is already protected by the sanctuary, but by visualizing its grandeur in great detail, we hope to inspire a new generation of ocean stewards to explore—and protect—other treasures still waiting to be found in the deep sea.

WARNING: This video may potentially trigger photosensitivity reactions. Viewer discretion is advised.

Data collected by MBARI’s mapping team has helped bring Sur Ridge to life. This animation combines data from ship-based multibeam sonar at 25 meters (82 feet) in resolution, autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) multibeam mapping data at one meter (about three feet) in resolution, and remotely operated vehicle (ROV) mapping lidar data at five centimeters (two inches) in resolution. MBARI scientists worked with Los Angeles film production company Frame 48 to visualize the terrain of Sur Ridge in astonishing detail. Learn more.

Figure 1A. Sur Ridge is located about 30 kilometers (19 miles) west of Point Sur on California‘s Central Coast. This map presents ship-collected EM300 multibeam sonar data at 30-meter resolution superimposed over a model of predicted bathymetry based on ship-collected depth data or, when not available, on satellite altimetry. Image: Jenny Paduan © MBARI 2021.

Quick facts about Sur Ridge

Sur Ridge is 30 kilometers (19 miles) west of Point Sur. This rocky ridge is about 60 kilometers (37 miles) from Monterey.

With its jagged topography, Sur Ridge’s rocky peaks are located 800 to 1,300 meters (2,600 to 4,300 feet) beneath the ocean’s surface.

Sur Ridge is over 20 kilometers (12 miles) long and four kilometers (2.5 miles) wide. It’s roughly the same size as Manhattan.

Sur Ridge rises 500 meters (1,640 feet) above the seafloor. Because Sur Ridge is nestled on the continental slope, measuring its height relative to the surrounding seafloor can be misleading—the ridge has a larger relative height on its downslope side—so MBARI typically measures the depths of the ridge’s four peaks instead. Sur Ridge’s highest point is the central peak and is 788 meters (2,585 feet) deep. The southernmost peak is 795 meters (2,608 feet) deep, while Sur Ridge’s two northern peaks are 825 meters (2,707 feet) and 857 meters (2,812 feet) deep.



MBARI leveraged a variety of platforms including ship-based multibeam sonar, autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs), and remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) to map Sur Ridge.

Autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) use numerous narrow beams of sound to map wide swaths of the seafloor.