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Deep-Sea Volcanoes Emit So Much Energy That They Could Power An Entire Continent

by Alisha Upadhyay

Deep-Sea Volcanoes Emit So Much Energy That They Could Power An Entire Continent

June 17, 2021

Ever wondered how do volcanoes under the surface of the sea work? Read on to find out how they can prove to be a source of energy.

Underwater volcanoes account for the largest portion of Earth’s volcanic activity. Submarine volcanoes were once thought to be less impressive than those found on land. After all, ‘terrestrial volcanoes’ offer spectacular, dramatic displays of fire and drama, whereas their submerged counterparts create only slow-moving lava flows. As a result, outside of academic fascination, it held little relevance. That is until a group of researchers from the University of Leeds discovered that these deep-sea underwater volcano eruptions unleash massive amounts of energy.

The data, collected by remote-controlled deep-sea vehicles stationed in the North East Pacific, found a link between two phenomena. How ash is disseminated during undersea eruptions and the formation of massive, powerful columns of hot water rising from the ocean floor known as megaplumes.

Despite the apparent relationship to active volcanism, the mechanism by which megaplumes develop is unknown, thus making the comprehension of this process difficult. 

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Magma rises and gathers in magma chambers because it is lighter than the solid rock surrounding it. Some of the magma eventually makes its way to the Earth's surface through vents and fractures. Magma that has erupted is called lava.

How do volcanoes erupt?

It gets so heated deep within the Earth that some rocks slowly melt and create magma, a viscous, flowing material. Magma rises and gathers in magma chambers because it is lighter than the solid rock surrounding it. Some of the magma eventually makes its way to the Earth’s surface through vents and fractures. Magma that has erupted is called lava.

Megaplumes

Megaplumes are massive in scale, containing enough water to fill forty million Olympic-sized swimming pools. They’ve been found over a number of undersea volcanoes, but their origin is uncertain. The findings of this most recent study show that they form swiftly during lava eruptions.

The scientists built a mathematical model which demonstrates how ash from these underwater outbursts spreads several kilometers from the volcano. They reconstructed the mechanics of a past undersea eruption using the ash pattern left behind. The model demonstrates that the amount of energy released to transport the ash to previously determined distances is enormous. In fact, it would be sufficient to power the entire United States.

 

The research paper’s findings show that megaplumes are linked to lava eruptions and are responsible for delivering volcanic ash deep into the ocean. It also demonstrates that plumes are formed in a couple of hours, releasing enormous amounts of energy.

Observing an underwater eruption in person is still impossible, but with the development of instrumentation situated on the bottom, data may now be transmitted live as the action occurs.

These efforts, combined with ongoing mapping and sampling of the ocean floor, are gradually revealing the volcanic character of our oceans.

All things considered, detecting a volcanic eruption on the ocean floor is difficult, so scientists still have a lot to learn about undersea volcanism.

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