An international team of researchers was able to provide evidence of explosive volcanism in the deeps of the ice-covered Arctic Ocean for the first time.
Researchers from an expedition to the Gakkel Ridge, led by the American Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), report in the current issue of the journal Nature that they discovered, with a specially developed camera, extensive layers of volcanic ash on the seafloor, which indicates a gigantic volcanic eruption.
"Explosive volcanic eruptions on land are nothing unusual and pose a great threat for whole areas," explains Dr Vera Schlindwein of the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research in the Helmholtz Association. She participated in the expedition as a geophysicist and has been, together with her team, examining the earthquake activity of the Arctic Ocean for many years.
"The Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD and buried thriving Pompeii under a layer of ash and pumice. Far away in the Arctic Ocean, at 85° N 85° E, a similarly violent volcanic eruption happened almost undetected in 1999 - in this case, however, under a water layer of 4,000 m thickness." So far, researchers have assumed that explosive volcanism cannot happen in water depths exceeding 3 kilometres because of high ambient pressure.
"These are the first pyroclastic deposits we've ever found in such deep water, at oppressive pressures that inhibit the formation of steam, and many people thought this was not possible," says Robert Reves-Sohn, staff member of the WHOI and lead scientist of the expedition carried out on the Swedish icebreaker Oden in 2007.
A major part of Earth's volcanism happens at the so-called mid-ocean ridges and, therefore, completely undetected on the seafloor. There, the continental plates drift apart; liquid magma intrudes into the gap and constantly forms new seafloor through countless volcanic eruptions. Accompanied by smaller earthquakes, which go unregistered on land, lava flows onto the seafloor. These unspectacular eruptions usually last for only a few days or weeks.
The Gakkel Ridge in the Arctic Ocean spreads so slowly at 6-14 mm/year, that current theories considered volcanism unlikely - until a series of 300 strong earthquakes over a period of eight months indicated an eruption at 85° N 85° E in 4 kilometres water depth in 1999. Scientists of the Alfred Wegener Institute became aware of this earthquake swarm and reported about its unusual properties in the periodical EOS in the year 2000.
Vera Schlindwein and her junior research group are closely examining the earthquake activity of these ultraslow-spreading ridges since 2006. "The Gakkel Ridge is covered with sea-ice the whole year. To detect little earthquakes, which accompany geological processes, we have to deploy our seismometers on drifting ice floes." This unusual measuring method proved highly successful: in a first test in the summer 2001 - during the "Arctic Mid-Ocean Ridge Expedition (AMORE)" on the research icebreaker Polarstern - the seismometers recorded explosive sounds by the minute, which originated from the seafloor of the volcanic region.
"This was a rare and random recording of a submarine eruption in close proximity," says Schlindwein. "I postulated in 2001 that the volcano is still active. However, it seemed highly improbable to me that the recorded sounds originated from an explosive volcanic eruption, because of the water depth of 4 kilometres."
The scientist regards the matter differently after her participation in the Oden-Expedition 2007, during which systematic earthquake measurements were taken by Schlindwein's team in the active volcanic region: "Our endeavours now concentrate on reconstructing and understanding the explosive volcanic episodes from 1999 and 2001 by means of the accompanying earthquakes. We want to know, which geological features led to a gas pressure so high that it even enabled an explosive eruption in these water depths." Like Robert Reves-Sohn, she presumes that explosive eruptions are far more common in the scarcely explored ultraslow-spreading ridges than presumed so far.
The Alfred Wegener Institute carries out research in the Arctic and Antarctic as well as in the high and mid latitude oceans. The institute coordinates German polar research and makes available to international science important infrastructure, e.g. the research icebreaker "Polarstern" and research stations in the Arctic and Antarctic. AWI is one of 15 research centres within the Helmholtz-Association, Germany's largest scientific organization.
Margarete Pauls | idw
A damming trend
17.12.2018 | Michigan State University
Live from the ocean research vessel Atlantis
13.12.2018 | National Science Foundation
Researchers from the University of Basel have reported a new method that allows the physical state of just a few atoms or molecules within a network to be controlled. It is based on the spontaneous self-organization of molecules into extensive networks with pores about one nanometer in size. In the journal ‘small’, the physicists reported on their investigations, which could be of particular importance for the development of new storage devices.
Around the world, researchers are attempting to shrink data storage devices to achieve as large a storage capacity in as small a space as possible. In almost...
The more objects we make "smart," from watches to entire buildings, the greater the need for these devices to store and retrieve massive amounts of data quickly without consuming too much power.
Millions of new memory cells could be part of a computer chip and provide that speed and energy savings, thanks to the discovery of a previously unobserved...
What if, instead of turning up the thermostat, you could warm up with high-tech, flexible patches sewn into your clothes - while significantly reducing your...
A widely used diabetes medication combined with an antihypertensive drug specifically inhibits tumor growth – this was discovered by researchers from the University of Basel’s Biozentrum two years ago. In a follow-up study, recently published in “Cell Reports”, the scientists report that this drug cocktail induces cancer cell death by switching off their energy supply.
The widely used anti-diabetes drug metformin not only reduces blood sugar but also has an anti-cancer effect. However, the metformin dose commonly used in the...
A research team from the University of Zurich has developed a new drone that can retract its propeller arms in flight and make itself small to fit through narrow gaps and holes. This is particularly useful when searching for victims of natural disasters.
Inspecting a damaged building after an earthquake or during a fire is exactly the kind of job that human rescuers would like drones to do for them. A flying...
12.12.2018 | Event News
10.12.2018 | Event News
06.12.2018 | Event News
17.12.2018 | Physics and Astronomy
17.12.2018 | Architecture and Construction
17.12.2018 | Life Sciences