Marine scientists return from expedition to erupting undersea volcano

Find massive volcanic cone, new deep-sea animal species

Scientists who have just returned from an expedition to an erupting undersea volcano near the Island of Guam report that the volcano appears to be continuously active, has grown considerably in size during the past three years, and its activity supports a unique biological community thriving despite the eruptions.

An international science team on the expedition, funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), captured dramatic new information about the eruptive activity of NW Rota-1.

“This research allows us, for the first time, to study undersea volcanoes in detail and close up,” said Barbara Ransom, program director in NSF’s Division of Ocean Sciences, which funded the research. “NW Rota-1 remains the only place on Earth where a deep submarine volcano has ever been directly observed while erupting.”



“In the ocean, any steam immediately condenses and disappears and what is visible are clear bubbles of carbon dioxide and a dense cloud made of tiny droplets of molten sulfur, formed when sulfur dioxide mixes with seawater,” Chadwick said. “These volcanic gases make the eruption cloud extremely acidic–worse than stomach acid–which is another challenge for biological communities living nearby.”

Ocean acidification is a serious concern because of human-induced carbon dioxide accumulating in the atmosphere. “Submarine volcanoes are places where we can study how animals have adapted to very acidic conditions,” Chadwick said.

During the April 2009 expedition, aboard the University of Washington’s R/V Thompson, the scientists made dives with Jason, a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) operated by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

National Science Foundation press release. 5 May 2009. Full press release.

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