Monday, November 28, 2005
Island's size expands due to volcanic eruptions
Researchers from the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) and the Hawaii Institute of Geophysics and Planetology (HIGP) were alerted to satellite data showing a large and fast flowing lava flow that is pouring into the sea like a huge waterfall.
“Red hot lava has formed a molten river 90 metres wide that is moving fast, possibly several metre per second and extending the shoreline on the north side of the island. This event is special because Montagu Island is mostly ice covered and it's very rare that we get to make direct observations of eruptions under ice sheets”, said Dr. John Smellie from BAS.
“My work usually involves studying Antarctic rock formations to find out how past eruptions affected the growth and retreat of ice sheets over the last 30 million years. This opportunity to monitor a live eruption and see how it affects ice cover is priceless”, added the BAS researcher who anticipated he plans to fly over the volcano in the New Year to get more close-up views for his research.
“It will be the highlight of my career” he says.
Researchers believed that volcanic activity on Montagu Island, which started in 2001, was winding down until they were alerted to the new satellite pictures showing the large, fast-moving lava flow. It is the first eruption observed on the island.
The 11 South Sandwich Islands form an arc on a volcanic fault line. They are important to researchers because of their remoteness from any continental landmass, making the lavas pristine, or unaffected by continental contamination. This helps reveal how the Earth's crust was formed and how it will evolve.