Marine scientists, on an expedition to an erupting undersea volcano near the Island of Guam, have discovered that it appears to be continuously active, has grown a new cone during the past three years, and its activity supports a unique biological community thriving despite the eruptions.
The international science team on the expedition, funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), captured dramatic new information about the eruptive activity of NW Rota-1.
“NW Rota-1 remains the only place on Earth where a deep submarine volcano has ever been directly observed while erupting,” said Barbara Ransom, program director in NSF’s Division of Ocean Sciences, which funded the research.
Scientists first observed eruptions at NW Rota-1 in 2004 and again in 2006, according to Bill Chadwick, an Oregon State University (OSU) volcanologist and chief investigator on the expedition.
This time, however, they discovered that the volcano had built a new cone 40 meters high and 300 meters wide.
“As the cone has grown, we’ve seen a significant increase in the population of animals that lives atop the volcano. We’re trying to determine if there is a direct connection between the increase in the volcanic activity and that population increase,” Chadwick said.
Animals in this unusual ecosystem include shrimp, crab, limpets and barnacles, some of which are new species.
“They’re specially adapted to their environment, and are thriving in harsh chemical conditions that would be toxic to normal marine life,” said Chadwick. “Life here is actually nourished by the erupting volcano,” he added.