Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Deciphering the Mysteries of an Ancient Seafloor Goliath

12.04.2010
“Supervolcanoes” have been blamed for multiple mass extinctions in Earth’s history, but the cause of these massive eruptions remains poorly understood. To explore the origins of these seafloor giants, scientists drilled into a large, 145 million-year-old volcanic mountain chain lying underwater off the coast of Japan.

The eruptions of “supervolcanoes” on Earth’s surface have been blamed for causing mass extinctions, belching large amounts of gases and particles into the atmosphere, and re-paving the ocean floor. The result?

Loss of species, increased greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and changes in ocean circulation. Despite their global impact, the origin and triggering mechanism of these eruptions remain poorly understood. New data collected during a recent Integrated Ocean Drilling Program (IODP) scientific research expedition in the Pacific Ocean may provide clues to unlocking this unsolved mystery in Earth’s geologic record.

In fall 2009, an international team of scientists participating in IODP Expedition 324 “Shatsky Rise Formation,” drilled five sites in the ocean floor to study the origin of the 145 million-year-old Shatsky Rise volcanic mountain chain. Located approximately 1500 kilometers (930 miles) east of Japan, Shatsky Rise measures roughly the size of California. This underwater mountain chain represents one of the largest supervolcanoes in the world: the top of Shatsky Rise lies three and a half kilometers (about two miles) below the sea surface, while its base plunges to nearly six kilometers (four miles) below the surface. Shatsky Rise is composed of layers of hardened lava, with individual lava flows that are up to 23 meters (75 feet) thick.

“Seafloor supervolcanoes are characterized by the eruption of enormous volumes of lava. Studying their formation is critical to understanding the processes of volcanism and the movement of material from the Earth’s interior to the surface,” remarked Dr. William Sager of Texas A&M University, who led the expedition together with co-chief scientist Dr. Takashi Sano of Japan’s National Museum of Nature and Science in Tokyo.

About a dozen supervolcanoes exist on Earth – some are found on land, while others lie at the bottom of the ocean. Those found on the seafloor are often referred to as “large oceanic plateaus.” Current scientific thinking suggests that these supervolcanoes were caused by eruptions occurring over a period of a few million years or less – a rapid pace in geologic time. Each of these supervolcanoes produced several million cubic kilometers of lava – about three hundred times the volume of all the Great Lakes combined – dwarfing the volume of lava produced by the biggest present-day volcanoes such as Hawaii.

Since the 1960s, geologists have debated the formation and origin of these large oceanic plateaus. The mystery lies in the origin of the magma, which is molten rock that forms within the Earth. A magma source rising from deep within the interior of the Earth has a different chemical composition than magma that forms just below the Earth’s crust. Some large oceanic plateaus exhibit signs of a deep-mantle origin. Others exhibit chemical signatures indicative of magma originating from a much shallower depth.

The IODP Shatsky Rise expedition focused on deciphering the relationship between supervolcano formation and the boundaries of tectonic plates, which may prove crucial to understanding what triggers supervolcano formation. A widely-accepted explanation for oceanic plateaus is that they form when a huge blob of magma source (a “plume head”) rises from deep in the Earth to the surface. An alternative theory suggests that large oceanic plateaus can originate at the intersection of three tectonic plates, known as a “triple junction,” but this mechanism is poorly understood. Shatsky Rise could play a key role in this debate, because it formed at a triple junction, but also displays certain characteristics that could be explained by the plume head model.

“Shatsky Rise is one of the best places in the world to study the origin of supervolcanoes,” Sager pointed out. “What makes Shatsky Rise unique is the fact that it is the only supervolcano to have formed during a time when Earth’s magnetic field reversed frequently.” This process creates “magnetic stripe” patterns in the seafloor. As Sager explained, “We can use these magnetic stripes to decipher the timing of the eruption and the spatial relationship of Shatsky Rise to the surrounding tectonic plates and triple junctions.”

According to preliminary results, sediments and microfossils collected during the expedition indicate that parts of the Shatsky Rise plateau were at one time at or above sea level, and formed an archipelago during the early Cretaceous period (about 145 million years ago). Shipboard lab studies further show that much of the lava erupted rapidly and that Shatsky Rise formed at or near the equator. As analyses continue in the months and years ahead, data collected during this expedition may help scientists to resolve the 50 year-old debate about the origin and nature of large oceanic plateaus.

IODP Expedition 324 “Shatsky Rise Formation” took place onboard the scientific ocean drilling vessel JOIDES Resolution from September 4 to November 4, 2009. The JOIDES Resolution is one of the primary research vessels of IODP, an international marine research program dedicated to advancing scientific understanding of the Earth through drilling, coring, and monitoring the subseafloor. The vessel is operated by the U.S. Implementing Organization of IODP, consisting of the Consortium for Ocean Leadership, Texas A&M University, and Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University.

IODP is supported by two lead agencies, the U.S. National Science Foundation and Japan’s Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology. Additional program support comes from the European Consortium for Ocean Research Drilling (ECORD), the Australian-New Zealand IODP Consortium (ANZIC), India’s Ministry of Earth Sciences, the People’s Republic of China (Ministry of Science and Technology), and the Korea Institute of Geoscience and Mineral Resources.

For more information about IODP Expedition 324 – Shatsky Rise Formation, visit http://iodp.tamu.edu/scienceops/expeditions/shatsky_rise.html

For more information about the JOIDES Resolution, visit www.joidesresolution.org.

For more information about the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program, visit www.iodp.org.

Media Contacts: Kristin Ludwig Consortium for Ocean Leadership, Washington, D.C. USA +1-202-448-1254

Jamus Collier, Integrated Ocean Drilling Program Management International, Inc. (IODP-MI), Tokyo, Japan, +81-3-6701-3185

Kristin Ludwig | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.oceanleadership.org
http://www.tamu.edu

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht Predicting unpredictability: Information theory offers new way to read ice cores
07.12.2016 | Santa Fe Institute

nachricht Sea ice hit record lows in November
07.12.2016 | University of Colorado at Boulder

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Electron highway inside crystal

Physicists of the University of Würzburg have made an astonishing discovery in a specific type of topological insulators. The effect is due to the structure of the materials used. The researchers have now published their work in the journal Science.

Topological insulators are currently the hot topic in physics according to the newspaper Neue Zürcher Zeitung. Only a few weeks ago, their importance was...

Im Focus: Significantly more productivity in USP lasers

In recent years, lasers with ultrashort pulses (USP) down to the femtosecond range have become established on an industrial scale. They could advance some applications with the much-lauded “cold ablation” – if that meant they would then achieve more throughput. A new generation of process engineering that will address this issue in particular will be discussed at the “4th UKP Workshop – Ultrafast Laser Technology” in April 2017.

Even back in the 1990s, scientists were comparing materials processing with nanosecond, picosecond and femtosesecond pulses. The result was surprising:...

Im Focus: Shape matters when light meets atom

Mapping the interaction of a single atom with a single photon may inform design of quantum devices

Have you ever wondered how you see the world? Vision is about photons of light, which are packets of energy, interacting with the atoms or molecules in what...

Im Focus: Novel silicon etching technique crafts 3-D gradient refractive index micro-optics

A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.

Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...

Im Focus: Quantum Particles Form Droplets

In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.

“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

ICTM Conference 2017: Production technology for turbomachine manufacturing of the future

16.11.2016 | Event News

Innovation Day Laser Technology – Laser Additive Manufacturing

01.11.2016 | Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

 
Latest News

Researchers identify potentially druggable mutant p53 proteins that promote cancer growth

09.12.2016 | Life Sciences

Scientists produce a new roadmap for guiding development & conservation in the Amazon

09.12.2016 | Ecology, The Environment and Conservation

Satellites, airport visibility readings shed light on troops' exposure to air pollution

09.12.2016 | Health and Medicine

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>