Friday, November 24, 2006

Underwater volcano eruption witnessed by scientists

This past April, U.S. scientists on an otherwise routine mission witnessed and retrieved data on a rare underwater volcano eruption.

The outburst happened 640 kilometres west of Mexico, along its notorious volcanic mountain range called the East Pacific Rise, some 2,500 metres beneath the Pacific Ocean surface.
Scientists realized something bizarre was happening when only four of their seven underwater instruments responded to instructions to resurface.

They used equipment onboard their vessel to check for temperature, salinity and turbidity near the ocean floor and discovered the water was unusually cloudy and warm.

They confirmed the presence of a recently-formed rock, and with a deep-diving camera system, found the formation of new black, glassy lava.

They also discovered why their three instruments couldn't resurface: they were trapped by the lava flow.

Witnessing and recording this particular type of event was a first.

"There was at least one site that was a lush site with tubeworms, crabs and mussels and it was just gone, just buried," Mike Perfit, a University of Florida researcher on the scene said in a press release Thursday.

Unlike volcanoes located above sea-level, underwater volcanoes spew lava gently because of the enormous ocean pressure, forming pillow-like structures along the seafloor.

The team hopes to go back next spring to retrieve additional data that may enable them to predict such eruptions in the future.

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