Mt. Erebus steaming away…

Posted by Robert Boggs

AN AMAZING DISCOVERY HAS BEEN MADE NEAR ANTARCTICA. A string of a dozen volcanoes has been found, with at least several of them being active.

A string of a dozen volcanoes has been found beneath the frigid seas near Antarctica. This is the first of such discovery in that region. At least several of them are active, with some of the peaks towering nearly 10,000 feet (3,000 metres) above the ocean floor. This is nearly tall enough to break the water’s surface.

Mr Philip Leat, a volcanologist with the British Antarctic Survey, who led a seafloor mapping expedition to the region in 2007 and 2010, commented that it was a very big volcano and if it was on land, it would be quite remarkable.

The group of 12 underwater mountains lies south of the South Sandwich Island. The desolate, ice-covered volcanoes rise above the southern Atlantic Ocean about halfway between South America and South Africa. They have erupted as recently as 2008. It is the first time that such a large number of undersea volcanoes has been discovered at the same time in the Antarctic region.

Leat and his survey team were somewhat surprised by the find. They knew there were other volcanoes in the area but their aim was not to find volcanoes. They just went because there was a big blank area on the map and they wanted to know what it was. The team did so with the help of ship-borne seafloor mapping technology.

It was adventurous as the images of the seafloor appeared before their eyes on screens as the ship moved through the water. They went along and suddenly they saw the bottom start to rise up underneath them, which they had no idea how shallow it would get.

At one point, in the dead of night, the team encountered a volcano so large that it looked as though the teams’ research vessel might actually crash into the hidden summit. It was actually quite frightening. Hence, the researchers stopped the ship and decided to return during daytime. The on-board instruments reflected that some of the peaks had risen within 160 feet (50 metres) off the ocean’s surface.

The scientists could tell they were volcanoes though the peaks were largely invisible without the aid of 3-D mapping technology, as their cone-like silhouette was a dead giveaway. There was no other way of getting that shape on the seafloor. In addition, the researchers dredged up rocky material from several peaks and found it rived with volcanic ash, black lava and lumps of pumice (solidified frothy lava).

The find backed up reports from a ship that visited the area in 1962. At that time, it indicated that a hidden volcano had erupted in the region. Leats’ biologist colleagues also discovered some interesting creatures living in the hot-spring-like conditions near the underwater mountains. More information on them would be provided soon.

Leat said that the expedition was indeed an exciting one as each moment, a hidden world never before seen by humans, unfolded before their eyes. With that, they could hardly go to bed at night as they wanted to see what was happening.

Photo :: A penguin watches the smoke signals coming from Mt Erebus, which was previously the only active volcano in Antarctica.

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