Volcanic eruptions deep in our oceans are capable of extremely powerful releases of energy, at a rate high enough to power the entire United States, according to a study released today.
Eruptions from deep-sea volcanoes have long been considered relatively uninteresting compared to those on land. While terrestrial volcanoes often produce spectacular eruptions, scattering volcanic ash throughout the environment, deep sea eruptions were thought to only produce slow lava flows.
But data collected by remotely operated vehicles from the depths of the North-East Pacific, and analyzed by scientists at the University of Leeds, has revealed a link between the way ash is dispersed during underwater eruptions and the creation of large and powerful columns of heated water rising from the ocean floor, known as mega-feathers.
These mega-feathers contain hot water that is rich in chemicals and act similarly to atmospheric plumes seen from terrestrial volcanoes, propagating first upwards and then outwards, carrying volcanic ash with them. The size of the mega-feathers is immense, with volumes of water equivalent to forty million Olympic swimming pools. They have been detected above various underwater volcanoes but their origin has remained unknown. The results of this new research show that they form quickly during the lava eruption.
The research was conducted by Sam Pegler, of the School of Mathematics and David Ferguson, of the School of Earth and Environment and is published today in the journal Nature communications.
Together, they developed a mathematical model that shows how the ash from these underwater eruptions spread many miles from the volcano. They used the ash pattern deposited by a historic underwater eruption to reconstruct its dynamics. This showed that the rate of energy released and required to transport the ashes to the observed distances is extremely high – equivalent to the energy used by the entire United States.
David Ferguson said: “The majority of Earth’s volcanic activity occurs underwater, mostly at depths of several miles in the deep ocean but, unlike terrestrial volcanoes, even detecting an eruption is occurring. is produced on the seabed is extremely difficult. Therefore, much remains for scientists to learn more about underwater volcanism and its effects on the marine environment. “
Research shows that underwater eruptions cause mega-feathers to form, but the release of energy is so rapid that it cannot be provided from the erupting molten lava alone. Instead, the research concludes that underwater volcanic eruptions lead to the rapid draining of hot fluid reservoirs in the earth’s crust. As the magma makes its way to the seabed, it carries this hot fluid with it.
Sam Pegler added, “Our work proves that mega-feathers are directly linked to the lava eruption and are responsible for transporting volcanic ash into the deep ocean. release of energy.
David Ferguson adds: “Observing an underwater eruption in person remains extremely difficult but the development of seabed-based instruments means that the data can be streamed live as the activity develops. product.
Efforts like these, along with continued ocean floor mapping and sampling, mean that the volcanic character of our oceans is slowly revealing itself.
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