Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Fiery volcano offers geologic glimpse into land that time forgot

20.10.2011
Video clip of lava bubbles posted

The first scientists to witness exploding rock and molten lava from a deep sea volcano, seen during a 2009 expedition, report that the eruption was near a tear in the Earth's crust that is mimicking the birth of a subduction zone.


The operations area at West Mata volcano during the 2009 expedition is part of the Lau Basin, bounded by Samoa, Tonga and Fiji. Credit: NSF/NOAA

Scientists on the expedition collected boninite, a rare, chemically distinct lava that accompanies the formation of Earth's subduction zones.

Nobody has ever collected fresh boninite and scientists never had the opportunity to monitor its eruption before, said Joseph Resing, University of Washington oceanographer and lead author of an online article on the findings in Nature Geoscience. Earth's current subduction zones are continually evolving but most formed 5 million to 200 million years ago. Scientists have only been able to study boninite collected from long-dead, relic volcanos millions of years old.

Resing was chief scientist on the expedition, funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Science Foundation, that pinpointed the location of the West Mata volcano, erupting 4,000 feet (1,200 meters) below the surface in the Southwest Pacific Ocean. Watch clip of eruption on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qaKnWF5ORsU.

"Everything about the eruption itself – how fast, how intense, the ratio of lava to explosive fragments, the amount and composition of gas released – is new to us," said co-author Kenneth Rubin, University of Hawaii geologist. "Plus, having a young, fresh occurrence of this very rare rock type to study gives us the opportunity to examine subtle chemical and mineralogical variations in a pristine specimen."

At subduction zones the oceanic crust on one tectonic plate slides beneath another, producing abundant volcanism and contributing heat, gases and mineral-laden fluids to ocean waters. Scientists have long studied the impact of subduction zones on geological and geochemical cycles. To puzzle out how subduction zones form and evolve they study inactive contemporary marine volcanos that do not produce boninite and they collect and study boninite lavas collected on land and examine cores collected from the deep sea.

"West Mata lies above the subducting Pacific plate and is part of the rapidly expanding Lau Basin, which is bounded by Samoa, Tonga and Fiji," Resing said. "The large bend at the northern end of the Tonga trench produces a tear in the Pacific plate and creates unusual lavas that usually only form at very young subduction zones."

Conditions are right for boninite to form, there's lots of seawater released from subducting rock that mixes into relatively shallow mantle that has previously melted, causing the mantle to remelt at high temperatures. Boninite lavas are believed to be among the hottest from volcanos that erupt on Earth.

"What makes this exciting is how uncommon these eruptions of boninite are, both now and in the past," Rubin said. "Locked within the boninite is critical information about the rates and magnitudes of subduction-zone magmatism and global geochemical cycles."

The scientists writing in Nature Geoscience think the release of gaseous water, carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide from the slab is the reason the eruption was so explosive. No one realized such energetic eruptions happened so deep, Resing says. Streams of red and gold lava 35 feet long shot through the water and lava-skinned bubbles some three feet across emerged.

West Mata, which the scientists estimate has been erupting for at least three years, and eight other elongated volcanoes that overlap each other in the northeast Lau Basin sit within one of the most magmatically active areas on Earth, Resing says.

"The basin may prove an important place to study submarine volcanic eruptions in relation to early stages of subduction," he said.

Rubin and Robert Embley, with NOAA's Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory, Newport, Ore., and co-author on the paper, will return to the area in November for further study and to try to determine if the volcano is still actively erupting.

"Observing the eruption in real time was a rare and special opportunity because we know so little about how submarine volcanic activity behaves," Embley said. "This is one of only a handful of 'glimpses' of the process we've had to date and is the first time we've actually observed natural submarine light from the glowing magma."

Resing's UW appointment is through NOAA and the Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and Oceans based at the UW. Other co-authors from the UW and the joint institute are Marvin Lilley, David Butterfield and Nathaniel Buck. Other co-authors are from NOAA-Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratories, Oregon State University, ETH Zurich, Marine Biological Laboratory, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institutions, Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, University of Tulsa, Oregon Health & Science University and Portland State University.

The project was funded by NSF, NOAA and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation.

For more information:

Resing,
206-526-6184,
resing@uw.edu
Rubin,
808-956-8973,
krubin@hawaii.edu
Embley,
541-867-0275,
robert.w.embley@noaa.gov
Video of erupting lava
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qaKnWF5ORsU
Images available
http://www.flickr.com/photos/63901270@N06/sets/72157627806806889/
Suggested websites
2009 expedition
UW release, 2009 expedition
http://www.washington.edu/news/archive/id/54413
NOAA, 2009 expedition
http://oceanexplorer.noaa.gov/explorations/09laubasin/welcome.html
NSF, 2009 expedition
http://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=116098
Resing
http://jisao.washington.edu/node/470
Nature Geoscience abstract
http://www.nature.com/ngeo/journal/vaop/ncurrent/abs/ngeo1275.html
West Mata
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/West_Mata
Rubin
http://www.soest.hawaii.edu/krubin/kenchron.html
Embley
http://www.pmel.noaa.gov/vents/staff/embley.html
JISAO
http://www.jisao.washington.edu/
Co-authors and affiliations
http://www.nature.com/ngeo/journal/vaop/ncurrent/abs/ngeo1275.html

Sandra Hines | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.uw.edu

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht Impacts of mass coral die-off on Indian Ocean reefs revealed
21.02.2017 | University of Exeter

nachricht How much biomass grows in the savannah?
16.02.2017 | Friedrich-Schiller-Universität Jena

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Breakthrough with a chain of gold atoms

In the field of nanoscience, an international team of physicists with participants from Konstanz has achieved a breakthrough in understanding heat transport

In the field of nanoscience, an international team of physicists with participants from Konstanz has achieved a breakthrough in understanding heat transport

Im Focus: DNA repair: a new letter in the cell alphabet

Results reveal how discoveries may be hidden in scientific “blind spots”

Cells need to repair damaged DNA in our genes to prevent the development of cancer and other diseases. Our cells therefore activate and send “repair-proteins”...

Im Focus: Dresdner scientists print tomorrow’s world

The Fraunhofer IWS Dresden and Technische Universität Dresden inaugurated their jointly operated Center for Additive Manufacturing Dresden (AMCD) with a festive ceremony on February 7, 2017. Scientists from various disciplines perform research on materials, additive manufacturing processes and innovative technologies, which build up components in a layer by layer process. This technology opens up new horizons for component design and combinations of functions. For example during fabrication, electrical conductors and sensors are already able to be additively manufactured into components. They provide information about stress conditions of a product during operation.

The 3D-printing technology, or additive manufacturing as it is often called, has long made the step out of scientific research laboratories into industrial...

Im Focus: Mimicking nature's cellular architectures via 3-D printing

Research offers new level of control over the structure of 3-D printed materials

Nature does amazing things with limited design materials. Grass, for example, can support its own weight, resist strong wind loads, and recover after being...

Im Focus: Three Magnetic States for Each Hole

Nanometer-scale magnetic perforated grids could create new possibilities for computing. Together with international colleagues, scientists from the Helmholtz Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR) have shown how a cobalt grid can be reliably programmed at room temperature. In addition they discovered that for every hole ("antidot") three magnetic states can be configured. The results have been published in the journal "Scientific Reports".

Physicist Dr. Rantej Bali from the HZDR, together with scientists from Singapore and Australia, designed a special grid structure in a thin layer of cobalt in...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Booth and panel discussion – The Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings at the AAAS 2017 Annual Meeting

13.02.2017 | Event News

Complex Loading versus Hidden Reserves

10.02.2017 | Event News

International Conference on Crystal Growth in Freiburg

09.02.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Microhotplates for a smart gas sensor

22.02.2017 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Scientists unlock ability to generate new sensory hair cells

22.02.2017 | Life Sciences

Prediction: More gas-giants will be found orbiting Sun-like stars

22.02.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>