The Hidden World of Deep-Sea Volcanic Blasts, Uncovered

The source and degree of energy output associated with underwater volcanoes has long been a mystery, but scientists are getting closer to learning what drives them.

Video Transcript


- A new study is offering up insights on the mysterious nature of volcanic activity deep beneath the sea. Scientists from the University of Leeds developed a mathematical model to explain the dispersal of volcanic ash, known as tephra, along the ocean floor. Despite high water pressure at these depths, mapping of these deposits has revealed that eruptions can scatter ash up to several kilometers away.

While past theory suggests tephra could be carried by tides or ocean currents, the new research published in "Nature Communications" indicates that the volcanic plumes are actually powerful enough to resist the pressures. Plumes of heated, chemical-rich water known as megaplumes rise upwards through the water before spreading out horizontally. The researchers estimate that heat transfer behind this powerful flow is double what is needed to power the entire US at once. They believe the source could be super-hot hydrothermal fluids in the ocean crust forced up by magma.