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Geos 111: Clash of the Elements – Volcano Eruptions in the Deep Ocean

We are all familiar with volcanic eruptions, from the fiery lava belched from the underbelly of Hawaii, to the large and terrifying explosive, ash eruptions like the Mount Saint Helens eruption of 1980. However, did you know that submarine eruptions account for about three-quarters of all of Earth’s volcanism ? The ocean floor is full of the cracks, or plate boundaries, that help the Earth to release some of its’ pent-up heat, hence underwater volcanoes.

So why don’t we hear more about these eruptions? Since there are so many underwater volcanoes, it is hard to predict which ones will erupt and when, and they also cause a lot less damage to humans than volcanoes on land do. In fact, the nutrient rich concoction spewing from the underwater eruptions actually help the local sea life. Researchers witnessed shrimp colonies grazing on mats of microbes on the rocks of a volcano and they concluded that deep-sea volcanism could have helped to nurture the first forms of life .

However, some eruptions are making the news. For instance, off the coast of the southernmost Canary Islands, El Hierro, there is a new island being formed, thanks to the eruption of an undersea volcano. Like Hawaii, many Pacific Islands are formed by undersea volcanic eruptions, and this newly forming island is about to breach the surface of the ocean in about 150 meters (Bojanowski). Because of this highly volcanic activity, the ocean around the island has been filled with gases and ash as a result of the eruptions, but the locals have proceeded with their lives after only a brief two week evacuation (Bojanowski). So although the eruption of a volcano so close to a tropical island may seem like a dangerous encounter, the volcano actually poses no immediate threat and may help the tourism of the Canary Islands with their newest member.

Scientists have actually been able to observe and film the deepest under-sea volcano yet: West Mata , 3,900 ft (1200 km) under the ocean in the Southwest Pacific off the coast of Fiji (Choi). The video of West Mata erupting was funded by the National Science Foundation and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, filmed by scientists led by University of Washington oceanographer, Joseph Resing, and can be seen  here. And even more spectacular, West Mata has been erupting conti

nuously since it was found in 2008 at such a depth (A Rolph). From forming islands to forming life, undersea volcanoes, although mysterious, are actually just as fascinating as their continental counterparts.

November 3, 2011.

By Stephen and Elise

References

A Rolph. (2011, October 23). UW researcher catches underwater volcano on film. Retrieved from http://blog.seattlepi.com/thebigblog.

Bojanowski, A. (2011, October 27). Underwater lava: Eruptions could create new island in the Canaries. Spiegel Online International. Retrieved from http://www.spiegel.de/international/europe .

Choi, C. (2011, October 21). Explosive underwater eruptions are deepest ever seen. Retrieved from http://www.foxnews.com/scitech.

IBTimes. (2011, October 31). Undersea volcano could create new Canary Island. International Business Times. Retrieved from http://au.ibtimes.com/articles.

 

 

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