Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


New Underwater Volcano Found Near Samoa


Vailulu’u rises 14,300 feet from the Pacific Ocean seafloor near the Samoan Islands. It ranges 21 miles at its base and is crowned with a mile-wide caldera that is 2,000 feet below the ocean surface. The new volcano, Nafanua, is growing inside the caldera and is nearly 1,000 feet high. (Stan Hart, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

An international team of scientists, led by researchers at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of Oregon and University of Sydney, has discovered an active underwater volcano near the Samoan Island chain about 2,400 miles southwest of Hawaii.

During a research cruise to study the Samoan hot spot, scientists uncovered a submarine volcano growing in the summit crater of another larger underwater volcano, Vailulu’u. Researchers explored the unique biological community surrounding the eruption site, and were amazed to find an “Eel City,” a community of hundreds of eels.

This new volcano, dubbed Nafanua after the ferocious Samoan goddess of war, did not exist just fours years ago, according to co-chief scientists Stan Hart, a geochemist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) , and Hubert Staudigel, a geologist at Scripps Institution of Oceanography. With a growth rate averaging eight inches per day, the volcanic cone has rapidly formed since the scientists’ last expedition to this area in May 2001. Nafanua now stands at 300 meters, or nearly 1,000 feet.

“To actually have a documented case of an underwater volcano that has been constructed within a known period of time is very rare—this is one of those cases,” said Hart, a Senior Scientist in the WHOI Geology and Geophysics Department.

Scientists were tipped off to the volcano’s existence when they profiled the seafloor of the Vailulu’u crater using multi-beam mapping. Existing maps of the seafloor in the area gave little indication that this volcano existed. When sound beams were directed into the crater this time, they measured an unusually shallow depth. These interesting results prompted further investigation of the area using the manned submersible Pisces V—a seven-foot sphere that can dive to more than 6,000 feet, operated by NOAA’s Hawaii Undersea Research Laboratory.

The water surrounding the volcanic cone is extremely turbid due to hydrothermal activity and the vigorous vents that produce this volcanic “fog” are obscured, according to Staudigel. Although visibility from the submersible was less than 10 feet, the researchers were able to observe the unique biological community surrounding the newly formed volcanic cone.

Much of Nafanua is covered with yellow “fluff,” microbial aggregations that are produced by microscopic life feeding on chemical energy from the volcano’s hydrothermal system. ---As this international team explored the area, they discovered a number of large communities of eels inhabiting the fragile cavernous rock pillars surrounding the hydrothermal vent area. As the submarine landed near this area, scores of eels, each approximately one foot long, emerged from the rock caves and crevices. The scientists named this novel marine hydrothermal community “Eel City.”

“At this point we do not know why we found such extensive eel communities surrounding this volcano—it’s a mystery that we hope to learn more about on future cruises,” Staudigel said.

Within decades, continued growth of Nafanua could bring the summit of this volcano from its current depth of 600 meters to a depth of approximately 200 meters—close enough to the sea surface that it could provide a potential hazard to ocean navigation and coastal communities. Such hazards may include the explosive reaction between red-hot lava and seawater, or tsunamis that may be caused by the collapse of the newly built volcano.

“It is a good idea for us to keep our eyes on this area, but there is no real reason for concern about immediate danger,” said Hart.

Three students from High Tech High in San Diego were aboard one of the two expeditions to Nafanua and assisted researchers in collecting and analyzing data. These students also created and maintained an in-depth Web site related to the cruise where they posted reports, maps, photos and videos from submersible dives. Also, the students and scientists aboard the ship participated in the first ever student-to-student videoconference between a high school and a research vessel with the help of HiSeasNet, a satellite communications system that provides continuous Internet connectivity for oceanographic research vessels at sea.

This research was funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Australian Research Council. The discovery of Nafanua included investigators from oceanographic institutions in the U.S. and Australia, in addition to graduate, undergraduate and high school students. Investigators included Hart from Woods Hole; Staudigel, Anthony Koppers, Alexis Templeton, and Brad Tebo from Scripps; Craig Young and Sandra Brooke of the Oregon Institute of Marine Biology at the University of Oregon; Adele Pile of the University of Sydney; Ian Hudson from the British National Oceanography Centre, Southampton; Ray Lee from Washington State University; and Ed Baker of NOAA Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory. This research was performed aboard two research vessels from the University of Hawaii, Ka’imikai O Kanaloa and Kilo Moana, and the NOAA submersible Pisces V.

Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) is a private, independent marine research and engineering and higher education organization located in Falmouth, MA. Its primary mission is to understand the oceans and their interaction with the Earth as a whole, and to communicate a basic understanding of the ocean’s role in the changing global environment. Established in 1930 on a recommendation from the National Academy of Sciences, the Institution operates the US National Deep Submergence Facility that includes the deep-diving submersible Alvin, a fleet of global ranging ships and smaller coastal vessels, and a variety of other tethered and autonomous underwater vehicles. WHOI is organized into five departments, interdisciplinary institutes and a marine policy center, and conducts a joint graduate education program with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Shelley Dawicki | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht Gas hydrate research: Advanced knowledge and new technologies
23.03.2018 | Helmholtz-Zentrum Potsdam - Deutsches GeoForschungsZentrum GFZ

nachricht New technologies and computing power to help strengthen population data
22.03.2018 | University of Southampton

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Space observation with radar to secure Germany's space infrastructure

Satellites in near-Earth orbit are at risk due to the steady increase in space debris. But their mission in the areas of telecommunications, navigation or weather forecasts is essential for society. Fraunhofer FHR therefore develops radar-based systems which allow the detection, tracking and cataloging of even the smallest particles of debris. Satellite operators who have access to our data are in a better position to plan evasive maneuvers and prevent destructive collisions. From April, 25-29 2018, Fraunhofer FHR and its partners will exhibit the complementary radar systems TIRA and GESTRA as well as the latest radar techniques for space observation across three stands at the ILA Berlin.

The "traffic situation" in space is very tense: the Earth is currently being orbited not only by countless satellites but also by a large volume of space...

Im Focus: Researchers Discover New Anti-Cancer Protein

An international team of researchers has discovered a new anti-cancer protein. The protein, called LHPP, prevents the uncontrolled proliferation of cancer cells in the liver. The researchers led by Prof. Michael N. Hall from the Biozentrum, University of Basel, report in “Nature” that LHPP can also serve as a biomarker for the diagnosis and prognosis of liver cancer.

The incidence of liver cancer, also known as hepatocellular carcinoma, is steadily increasing. In the last twenty years, the number of cases has almost doubled...

Im Focus: Researchers at Fraunhofer monitor re-entry of Chinese space station Tiangong-1

In just a few weeks from now, the Chinese space station Tiangong-1 will re-enter the Earth's atmosphere where it will to a large extent burn up. It is possible that some debris will reach the Earth's surface. Tiangong-1 is orbiting the Earth uncontrolled at a speed of approx. 29,000 km/h.Currently the prognosis relating to the time of impact currently lies within a window of several days. The scientists at Fraunhofer FHR have already been monitoring Tiangong-1 for a number of weeks with their TIRA system, one of the most powerful space observation radars in the world, with a view to supporting the German Space Situational Awareness Center and the ESA with their re-entry forecasts.

Following the loss of radio contact with Tiangong-1 in 2016 and due to the low orbital height, it is now inevitable that the Chinese space station will...

Im Focus: Alliance „OLED Licht Forum“ – Key partner for OLED lighting solutions

Fraunhofer Institute for Organic Electronics, Electron Beam and Plasma Technology FEP, provider of research and development services for OLED lighting solutions, announces the founding of the “OLED Licht Forum” and presents latest OLED design and lighting solutions during light+building, from March 18th – 23rd, 2018 in Frankfurt a.M./Germany, at booth no. F91 in Hall 4.0.

They are united in their passion for OLED (organic light emitting diodes) lighting with all of its unique facets and application possibilities. Thus experts in...

Im Focus: Mars' oceans formed early, possibly aided by massive volcanic eruptions

Oceans formed before Tharsis and evolved together, shaping climate history of Mars

A new scenario seeking to explain how Mars' putative oceans came and went over the last 4 billion years implies that the oceans formed several hundred million...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Industry & Economy
Event News

New solar solutions for sustainable buildings and cities

23.03.2018 | Event News

Virtual reality conference comes to Reutlingen

19.03.2018 | Event News

Ultrafast Wireless and Chip Design at the DATE Conference in Dresden

16.03.2018 | Event News

Latest News

For graphite pellets, just add elbow grease

23.03.2018 | Materials Sciences

Unique communication strategy discovered in stem cell pathway controlling plant growth

23.03.2018 | Agricultural and Forestry Science

Sharpening the X-ray view of the nanocosm

23.03.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>