Creatures living on violent undersea volcano give climate change survival clue

An active underwater volcano which spews torrents of lava and noxious gas has become a surprising hotspot for sea critters, scientists revealed today.

Studying them may provide answers to how sea life could adapt to the world’s increasingly acidic oceans, they said.

The unique volcano near the island of Guam erupts so frequently that it has built a new cone 131ft high and 984ft wide in just three years.

‘That’s as tall as a 12-story building and as wide as a full city block,’ said expedition leader Bill Chadwick, a volcanologist at Oregon State University.

But despite the tumultuous conditions a large number of creatures including shrimp, crab, limpets and barnacles, have thrived at the volcano called NW Rota-1.

‘They’re specially adapted to their environment and are thriving in harsh chemical conditions that would be toxic to normal marine life,’ said Chadwick.

‘Life here is actually nourished by the erupting volcano.’

Sea water is slightly alkaline, but the rise of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has been mirrored by an increase of CO2 dissolving in the oceans and forming carbonic acid.

Ocean acidification is a serious concern because it can be fatal to some fish eggs and larvae and interferes with the formation of shells.

‘Submarine volcanoes are places where we can study how animals have adapted to very acidic conditions,’ Chadwick said.

‘Volcanic gases make the eruption cloud extremely acidic – worse than stomach acid.’

Verena Tunnicliffe, a biologist from the University of Victoria, said that two species of shrimp had revealed intriguing adaptations to volcano living.

Claire Bates, Daily Mail Online, 7 May 2009. Full article & video.

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