Scientists have discovered an erupting volcano 4,000 feet below the sea.
The West Mata volcano – situated between Fiji, Tonga and Samoa – is hurling out molten lava bubbles three feet across.
The water around the eruption is in some cases as acidic as battery acid or stomach acid. Nevertheless, the scientists found that shrimp were thriving.
“We found a type of lava never before seen erupting from an active volcano, and for the first time observed molten lava flowing across the deep-ocean seafloor,” said the expedition’s chief scientist Joseph Resing, a chemical oceanographer at the University of Washington.
“It was an underwater Fourth of July, a spectacular display of fireworks nearly 4,000 feet deep,” said co-chief scientist Bob Embley, a marine geologist at NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in Newport, Ore.
The scientists believe that 80 percent of eruptive activity on Earth takes place in the ocean, and that most volcanoes are in the deep sea.They hope to gain a better understanding of oceanic cycles of carbon dioxide and sulfur gases, how heat and matter are transferred from the interior of the Earth to its surface, and how life adapts to some of the harshest conditions on Earth.
A remotely-operated vehicle collected samples using manipulator arms, and obtained imagery using a prototype still and HD imaging system developed and operated by the Advanced Imaging and Visualization Lab at WHOI.
“Since the water pressure at that depth suppresses the violence of the volcano’s explosions, we could get an underwater robot within feet of the active eruption. On land, or even in shallow water, you could never hope to get that close and see such great detail. said co-chief scientist Bob Embley, a marine geologist at NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in Newport, Ore.”
Expedition scientists discussed their observations at the American Geophysical Union (AGU)’s annual fall meeting in San Francisco.