Photo courtesy of OSU | The arm of a robot prepares to sample lava from an undersea volcano eruption off the Oregon Coast.
Photo courtesy of OSU | An ocean-bottom hydrophone is buried in about six feet of new lava from an April 2011 eruption of Axial Seamount.
NEWPORT, OR (KPTV) -
Oregon State University scientists say they've discovered an eruption of an undersea volcano about 250 miles off the Oregon Coast.
The April 6 eruption produced a lava flow at least 1.2 miles wide, scientists say, and there were hundreds of tiny earthquakes during the eruption.
The volcano, named Axial Seamount, last erupted in 1998, and the team of OSU scientists forecasted it would erupt again before 2014. Oregon State scientists say this marks the first-ever successful forecast of an undersea volcano.
The new eruption was discovered July 28 when scientists used a robot to find a new lava flow on the seafloor that was not present a year ago. Because only a handful of the earthquakes were detected from land, scientists did not initially believe there was an eruption.
Bill Chadwick, an OSU geologist, says the team of scientists thought they were in the wrong place because the seafloor looked so different.
"We couldn't find our markers or monitoring instruments or other distinctive features on the bottom," he says. "Once we figured out that an eruption had happened, we were pretty excited."
When they recovered seafloor instruments and recorders, the scientists learned the volcanic eruption took place April 6.
"So far, it is hard to tell the full scope of the eruption because we discovered it near the end of the expedition," Chadwick says. "But it looks like it might be at least three times bigger than the 1998 eruption."
"It's the only volcano on the ocean seafloor that had its surface monitored through an entire eruption cycle," says Scott Nooner, of Columbia University.
The scientists now plan to examine samples taken from the seafloor. They'll also try to predict what will happen next to the volcano.
Chadwick hopes the scientists can build on what they learned in forecasting the latest eruption and apply it to predicting other undersea volcanoes, "and perhaps even volcanoes on land."
"The acid test in science - whether or not you understand a process in nature - is to try to predict what will happen based on your observations," he says.
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