As OSU volcanologist Bill Chadwick watches live images of a violent series of explosions deep in the Pacific, he searches for words that capture the otherworldly scene. “It’s like a balloon popping, or a pillow!” Chadwick is witnessing for the first time what no one has seen before: explosive eruptions of a submarine volcano.
Terra Up Close
Underwater Volcano Eruption
No need to duck! Watch an underwater volcano erupt in this video shot by OSU researchers.
The eruption, caught on video by an international team that included OSU researchers, spewed a “pulsating, opaque, yellowish smoky plume” because it was loaded with droplets of molten sulfur, the scientists from the United States, Japan and Canada wrote in the May 2006 issue of Nature. The images, some taken just 10 feet from the crater by an underwater robot named Jason II, showed roiling clouds of ash and sulfur bursting again and again from the crater, tossing huge chunks of rock around like beach balls.
All of this happened in the sunless, 1,800-foot depths near the Mariana Islands. Illuminated eerily by the robot’s search light were “characteristics unlike any known hydrothermal plume,” reported Chadwick and Robert Embley of OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center. The adjunct professors in OSU’s College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences visited the sulfurous crater — dubbed Brimstone Pit — on expeditions between 2004 and 2006. They were funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Canadian Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council and the Japanese Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology.
The findings will help scientists better understand terrestrial volcanoes, such as those in the Cascade Range.