Magma explosions video
Closeup of magma explosions
Nearly 4000 feet below the ocean's surface, the volcano West Mata, located in the Pacific Ocean near Tonga and Fiji, has rocked scientists and public alike with its spectacular display of fire bursts, molten lava, and billowing sulfur “smoke.”
Scientists have spent decades in a fruitless pursuit of these oceanic fireworks—rushing to likely sites only to find that the event had already happened—but last May, they got lucky.
“This is historic,” said Joseph Resing, a chemical oceanographer with the University of Washington, said December 17 at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco, where the video was unveiled. “We haven't seen new ocean crust being made before.”
In a joint project with National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Science Foundation, scientists have been monitoring the area. When they detected plumes of hydrogen impregnated water, laden with bits of volcanic class, near the site, they knew an eruption was imminent. They deployed Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution's undersea robotic craft JASON to film the eruption. “We saw red hot molten lava being blown like bubble gum,” Resing described.
More than just a visual stunner, however, the event is also a scientific boon for ocean scientists. The eruption produced fresh samples of the water-laden mineral boninite—a substance that until now, had only been found in ancient rock samples. “Knowing the date of the eruptions gives us the ability to study aspects of the chemistry of the rock, such as radioactive tracers,” said Kenneth H. Rubin, geology professor at the University of Hawaii.
The group is also studying thermophilic microbes and shrimp found thriving near the eruptions.
Credit: NOAA and NSF
It is, in a word: awesome. Scientists have for the first time captured on video a deep undersea volcano in mid-eruption: