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Researchers discover underwater volcano

Research Laboratory.

The water surrounding the volcanic cone is extremely turbid due to hydrothermal activity and the vigorous vents that produce this volcanic "fog" are obscured, according to Staudigel. Although visibility from the submersible was less than 10 feet, the researchers were able to observe the unique biological community surrounding the newly formed volcanic cone.

Much of Nafanua is covered with yellow "fluff," microbial aggregations that are produced by microscopic life feeding on chemical energy from the volcano's hydrothermal system. As Staudigel and his international team explored the area, they discovered a number of large communities of eels inhabiting the fragile cavernous rock pillars surrounding the hydrothermal vent area. As the submarine landed near this area, scores of eels, each approximately one foot in length, emerged from the rock caves and crevices. The scientists named this novel marine hydrothermal community "Eel City."

"At this point we do not know why we found such extensive eel communities surrounding this volcano--it's a mystery that we hope to learn more about on future cruises," said Staudigel.

Within decades, continued growth of Nafanua could bring the summit of this volcano from its current depth of 600 meters to a depth of approximately 200 meters-close enough to the sea surface that it could provide a potential hazard to ocean navigation and coastal communities. Such hazards may include the explosive reaction between red-hot lava and seawater, or tsunamis that may be caused by the collapse of the newly built volcano.

"It is a good idea for us to keep our eyes on this area, but there is no real reason for concern about immediate danger," said Staudigel.

Three students from High Tech High in San Diego were aboard one of the two expeditions to Nafanua and assisted researchers in collecting and analyzing data. These students also created and maintained an in-depth web site relate
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Source:University of California - San Diego


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