Ocean Observatories Initiative streams live video of undersea volcano

Aug 26, 2011
This image looks into the subsurface at Axial Seamount and shows a "snowblower" vent, a collapsed lobate lava flow about 1 meter (3 feet) across with white materials (bacterial mats and biofilm materials that coat the surfaces) thriving in nutrient-rich waters that are slightly above ambient (2 degrees C) temperature. White, dense accumulations of filamentous bacteria surround the snowblower. Credit: Canadian Scientific Submersible Facility and the University of Washington

Last spring, a volcano erupted 425 kilometers (about 265 miles) off the Oregon coast and far below the surface, at Axial Seamount. No one was aware for months.

Now, the National Science Foundation's (NSF) Ocean Observatories Initiative (OOI) will survey the site and stream live video of the volcano. It's the first live video since the volcano spewed massive amounts of lava on April 6.

When NSF-funded Oregon State University geologist William Chadwick first discovered evidence of the April eruption on Axial in late July, he immediately communicated the information to a team of University of Washington (UW) scientists and engineers currently on an OOI expedition very near the recent eruption.

The team, aboard the Thomas G. Thompson, is conducting site surveys for the deployment of a sensor infrastructure that's part of OOI.

Surveying this site is just one example of the ways in which OOI will revolutionize the way oceanography is conducted. UW oceanographers John Delaney and Deborah Kelley are leading the expedition, known as VISIONS '11.

The submarine volcano is one of OOI's primary study sites. OOI, a multi-scale ocean observing system, will deploy sensors in the ocean and provide a networked system that will allow open access to data from the air-sea interface through the to the seafloor.

Scientists and engineers have been putting the finishing touches on the construction design phase of the cabled ocean observing system that forms a backbone of OOI.

This major component of the OOI program, with the formal name of the Regional Scale Nodes, is located off the Oregon and Washington coasts.

The Axial eruption has offered a rare opportunity to use this next-generation ocean-observing technology in innovative ways.

Investigating the seamount and its environs will allow the best decisions to be made on how to construct a long-term observatory at such active seafloor sites.

The crew on the Thompson is now using a host of modern seagoing research tools to examine the Axial site.

Their activities are focused in the short-term on using and producing new maps of the volcanic changes that have taken place since the eruption.

In another portion of the region off Oregon, other members of the OOI team on board the cable-laying ship TE Subcom Dependable are deploying and burying electro-optical cable as part of the current OOI installation activity.

"OOI is transforming our ability to study the global ocean," says Delaney. "We're fitting the Juan de Fuca Plate [off Oregon and Washington] and overlying with myriad sensor arrays connected to a fiber optic-electrical network. This infrastructure will allow scientists to track changes taking place on a 24/7/365 basis for many decades."

Axial Seamount appears to be quiet at the moment, but viewers will see images of "frozen" eruptions with cooling lava flows blanketing the seafloor.

"We are excited to be working at Axial so soon after the latest eruption," said Kelley. "Using a remotely operated vehicle equipped with a high-definition underwater video camera, we are able to conduct surveys that will help determine the extent and amount of new lava flows, and assess the life forms that are already beginning to re-appear at the site."

It's a preview of the kinds of information OOI will enable researchers to collect.

OOI deployments will be on coastal, regional and global scales. OOI's planned operational timeframe is 25 years.

The data will be available to the public, educators and researchers, making oceanography possible for citizens and scholars who might never go to sea.

Sustained, time-series data provided by OOI will enable researchers to study complex, interlinked physical, chemical, biological and geological processes operating throughout the global ocean--processes such as those happening at Axial Seamount.

Explore further: Mystery solved: 'Sailing stones' of death valley seen in action for the first time

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

UC San Diego to develop ocean observing cyberinfrastructure

Sep 02, 2009

The U.S. has taken the next step toward construction of the revolutionary Ocean Observatories Initiative (OOI): a network of ocean observing components, and their associated cyberinfrastructure, that will allow scientists ...

Robot vehicle surveys deep sea off Pacific Northwest

Aug 13, 2008

The first scientific mission with Sentry, a newly developed robot capable of diving as deep as 5,000 meters (3.1 miles) into the ocean, has been successfully completed by scientists and engineers from the ...

Live, from the bottom of the sea

Aug 26, 2011

Lamont-Doherty scientist Timothy Crone is at sea off the Northwest U.S. coast, dropping sensors into the deep ocean as part of a major initiative to better understand oceans, climate and plate tectonics. You ...

Scientists search for seafloor eruption

Mar 09, 2005

The most intense swarms of earthquakes detected in the last 10 to 12 years on the far edge of the Juan de Fuca plate could indicate the eruption of magma from the seafloor or an underwater volcano. Between 50 and 70 earthquakes ...

Recommended for you

New signs of eruption at Iceland volcano

10 hours ago

Teams monitoring Iceland's Bardarbunga volcano have found evidence of a possible underground eruption as powerful earthquakes continue to shake the area, Icelandic authorities said Thursday.

NASA sees a weaker Tropical Storm Marie

10 hours ago

When NOAA's GOES-West satellite captured an image of what is now Tropical Storm Marie, weakened from hurricane status on August 28, the strongest thunderstorms were located in the southern quadrant of the ...

TRMM analyzes Hurricane Cristobal

11 hours ago

NASA's Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission or TRMM Satellite provided a look under the hood of Hurricane Cristobal as it continues moving north and paralleling the U.S. East Coast. NASA's HS3 hurricane mission ...

User comments : 0