Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Underwater volcanic eruptions witnessed first hand!

A crack team of "rapid response" volcano experts scrambled to the South Pacific Ocean last month to find something rarely seen by human eyes: an underwater eruption exploding into the inky, cold depths and spewing lava onto the ocean floor.

The realm of underwater volcanic eruptions is a strange, uncharted one. As much as 80 percent of the planet's volcanic activity is thought to occur on the sea floor, but scientists are rarely able to witness the events.

One of the few other undersea volcanoes recorded by researchers was when a series of eruptions near the island of Guam in 2004 vented droplets of liquid carbon dioxide and formed pools of liquid sulfur.

Last November, a team led by Joseph Resing of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in Seattle detected a plume of volcanic material floating in the water column, above the Lau Basin, 140 miles southwest of Samoa. On May 6 they returned and sent the remotely operated vehicle (ROV) Jason-2 into the abyss, wondering if the fiery theater was still going.

It was. The team saw glowing, red-hot lava creeping out of a vent called Hades on the West Mata volcano, nearly 4,000 feet under water. Ocean water chills lava on contact, forming pillow-shaped rocks that are commonly found on land, but that no one had ever witnessed growing on the ocean floor.

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