Robot records volcano erupting 4,000 feet undersea

In deep Pacific Ocean

Robot records volcano erupting 4,000 feet undersea

In this video snapshot, taken on May 7, 2009, a robotic arm collects samples at the West Mata Volcano nearly 4,000 feet beneath the Pacific Ocean, south of Samoa.  AP/NSF NOAAA submersible robot witnessed the eruption in May during an underwater expedition near Samoa, and the high-definition videos were presented on Thursday at a geophysics conference in San Francisco. Scientists hope the images, data and samples obtained during the mission will shed new light on how the earth’s crust was formed.

The research could also help explain how some sea creatures survive and thrive in extreme environments and how the earth behaves when tectonic plates collide.
“We have seen all kinds and types of eruptions before this. But this type of eruption we’ve never seen before,” said Bob Embley, a marine geologist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The eruption was a spectacular sight: Bright-red lava bubbles shot out of the volcano, releasing a smoke-like cloud of sulfur. The lava froze almost instantly as it hit the cold sea water, causing black rock to sink to the sea floor. The submersible hovered near the blasts, its robotic arm reaching into the lava to collect samples.

Earth and ocean scientists said the eruption allowed them to see for the first time the creation of a material called boninite, which had previously been found only in samples at least a million years old. Hubert Staudigel, a volcanologist, said, while other undersea eruptions have been recorded before, but this record presents exciting new opportunities for study. 

The mission to record a deep-sea volcanic eruption was 25 years in the making.

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