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A massive underwater volcano erupted and scientists almost missed it

Published Jan 12th, 2018 2:24PM EST
ocean volcano

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Generally speaking, it’s pretty easy to tell when something is going on with a volcano. When a large volcano is about to blow its top it typically shows signs of unrest many days, months, or even years ahead of time. Add to that the fact that many volcanos are constantly monitored and are popular with sightseers and you can understand why the vast majority of volcanic activity is easy to observe and study. When the Havre volcano produced a massive eruption several years back scientist not only didn’t predict it, they actually almost missed it entirely.

In a new paper published in Science Advances, researchers explain how they first spotted the eruption and discuss the incredible challenges associated with studying a volcano that is erupting on the bottom of the ocean.

As you can probably imagine, studying anything deep underwater is inherently more challenging that studying something on dry land. Not only is visibility much lower from a distance, but you can’t exactly just walk right up to an underwater volcano to get a better view.

In fact, scientists only knew that something was going on when they spotted a massive trail of debris floating on the ocean surface. The material had created what researchers call a “raft,” which is another way of saying it was a whole bunch of buoyant rock that had collected far above the eruption. With so much material already gathering on the surface, researchers expected to see an incredibly violent sight when they sent their observation equipment below, but they were in for a surprise.

As the paper explains, the volcano was actually kind of chill about the whole thing. Sure, it was spewing out molten rock, creating a large cone of cooled rock around the site of the eruption, but despite the incredible amount of material it was producing it was far less violent than what you might expect from a large eruption.

The researchers explain that this was indeed a surprise, but only because underwater volcanoes have so poorly understood for so long. Science hasn’t done a great job of studying them (for the reasons mentioned earlier), and they could still hold some incredibly vital clues for scientists hoping to paint a more detailed picture of how our planet functions.

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