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Underwater volcano erupts -- but you missed it

August 10, 2011 | 10:41 am

Underwater_volcano
Underwater volcanoes -- also called submarine volcanoes -- don't erupt every day. And this underwater eruption was no doubt dramatic: The volcano spewed so much lava that it changed the geological landscape off the Oregon coast and actually raised the surrounding seafloor a stunning 12 feet in some places.

Only, no one saw it happen.

Scientists from Oregon State University and Columbia University have been studying the underwater volcano called Axial Seamount, which rises about 3,000 feet from the ocean floor and is about 250 miles from shore. In a paper published in the Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research, they predicted an eruption by 2014. 

Turns out Axial Seamount needed to blow off some steam a little earlier than that.

Bill Chadwick, a geologist at Oregon State, visited the area last month and was using a video stream to evaluate the seafloor when he realized ... everything looked different. "It looked nothing like before and I was totally convinced we were in the wrong place," Chadwick told The Oregonian. A double-check of navigational instruments confirmed that the researchers were in the right place. That's when he knew.

"All of a sudden it hit us that, wow, there had been an eruption," Chadwick said in an Oregon State announcement. "So it was very exciting."

Scientists have since determined that the eruption took place April 6, and was so deep below the surface of the water that no one was the wiser.

The finding is believed to be evidence of the first successful prediction of an underwater volcano, and such data can help researchers document and predict other oceanic geo-hazards. Axial Seamount last erupted in 1998.

According to the school statement: To measure movements, the scientists used pressure sensors –- the kind also used to detect tsunamis -– as well as other instruments. Two ocean-bottom hydrophones helped them determine when the eruption actually happened. A third hydrophone was lost, buried in the new lava flows.

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--Rene Lynch
Twitter / renelynch

Photo: The chain is all that is visible of an ocean-bottom hydrophone buried in about six feet of new lava from an April eruption of Axial Seamount. Credit: Courtesy of Bill Chadwick and Bob Dziak of Oregon State University; copyright Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

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