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Underwater Volcano is the Largest in the World – Comparable in Size to Olympus Mons on Mars

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A giant volcano the size of New Mexico or the British Isles has been found under the Pacific Ocean, about 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) east of Japan, making it the biggest volcano on Earth and one of the biggest in the solar system.

Called Tamu Massif, the giant shield volcano had been thought to be a composite of smaller structures, but now scientists say they must rethink long-held beliefs about marine geology.

“This finding goes against what we thought, because we found that it’s one huge volcano,” said William Sager, a geology professor at the University of Houston in Texas. Sager is lead author in a study about the find that was published this week in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Geoscience.

“It is in the same league as Olympus Mons on Mars, which had been considered to be the largest volcano in the solar system,” Sager told National Geographic.

Tamu Massif is a rounded dome that measures about 280 by 400 miles (450 by 650 kilometers), or more than 100,000 square miles. Its top lies about 6,500 feet (about 2,000 meters) below the ocean surface, while the base extends down to about 4 miles (6.4 kilometers) deep. Tamu Massif dwarfs the largest active volcano on Earth, Mauna Loa in Hawaii, which measures about 2,000 square miles (5,200 square kilometers).

Made of basalt, Tamu Massif is the oldest and largest feature of an oceanic plateau called the Shatsky Rise in the northwestern Pacific Ocean. The total area of the rise is similar to Japan or California.

Sager started studying Tamu Massif about 20 years ago. He named it Tamu Massif because Tamu is short for Texas A&M University, where the scientist worked at the time; massif is French for “massive” and is a scientific term for a large mountain.

Scientists had known about the Shatsky Rise since the early 20th century, when it was first mapped, he explained. “We knew it was a big mountain range, but we didn’t know what the structure was like or how it formed,” said Sager.

He added that Tamu Massif is different from classic seamounts, the volcanoes that protrude off the ocean floor around the world by the tens of thousands. Tamu Massif is much larger, with a much more gentle slope than classic seamounts, Sager said.

Near the summit of Tamu Massif, the slope is only around one degree, he said. Down the flank the slope is half a degree, and it’s even less than that near the base. (The average slope of a staircase is 40 degrees, and an easy ski slope is about 10 degrees.) ”If you were standing on the massif, you would have a hard time knowing which way is down,” said Sager.

Finding an Unusual Structure

Scientists had thought the giant Shatsky Rise formed over time as a composite of several volcanoes that grew together, in a process similar to the way the big island of Hawaii was made by the outpourings of five separate volcanoes that were in close proximity.

But when Sager and colleagues looked at seismic data of Tamu Massif, they were surprised at what they found.

“We saw what appear to be lava flows going out from the center of the volcano in all directions, with no obvious large secondary source of volcanism, so that was a surprise,” Sager said.

The team also performed geochemical analysis on core samples taken from the massif. They found that the huge structure appeared to be made out of the same rock, of the same age.

So the scientists concluded that Tamu Massif was created by a single volcano, and probably over a relatively short period of time of a few million years. The volcano went “extinct,” meaning inactive, shortly after it formed, Saged added. That was probably in the Late Jurassic to Early Cretaceous period, about 145 million years ago.

“If what they are saying is correct, that is truly a massive volcano,” said Brian Jicha, a geologist at the University of Wisconsin who has received funding from National Geographic to study the formation of the Aleutian Islands.

“There are a lot of these oceanic plateaus, so if some of them really are just volcanoes, this paper might begin to change the way we think oceanic plateaus are built, and maybe even some of the continental basalt plateaus,” said Jicha, who was not involved in the study.

Sager agrees that more work is needed on other oceanic plateaus. “There could be around a dozen of these things out there,” he said about the possibility of more large shield volcanoes under the sea.

Sager noted that although Tamu Massif currently appears to be the largest single volcano on Earth, there are still larger volcanic complexes, such as theSiberian Traps, which may hold other mysteries. Those features were likely made up of molten rock from different sources, he said, unlike Tamu Massif’s formation according to the new theory.

How Did the Volcano Form?

Sager said scientists are still trying to work out the details of how Tamu Massif formed.

He said it seems likely that the spot on the seafloor had the right mix of elements, including a boundary of three tectonic plates, thin crust, and a source of hot magma below that was able to bubble up to the surface. The molten rock poured out, and then built up a wide, gradual rise as it cooled.

Precisely how the magma made it to the surface is an open question. Perhaps a blob of the rock got superheated, and then rose to the surface due to buoyancy. Or, cracks in the overlying crust could have opened, allowing molten rock to spill out.

The next step will be more work to figure out what the source of the magma was, said Sager. He would like to go back and measure the magnetic properties of the rock, using a ship that is equipped with GPS. The data will give him a better idea how the lava spread out, he said.

Jicha added that “if it is indeed really one volcano, and the case is fairly compelling, the amount of magma that had to go through the lithosphere [crust] is off the charts.”

“Not only does [Tamu Massif] give us a new wow in the form of a giant new volcano, but it gives us new insight into a building block of an oceanic plateau,” said Sager.

He’s not sure if the new volcano will help scientists better understand Olympus Mons on Mars, but noted that “we can see the surface of Mars better than we can see the bottom of the ocean.”

Tamu Massif, he said, “has been hiding out for 145 million years because it found a good place to hide.”

 

Source: National Geographic

Gear News

New from Fourth Element: the RF2 free diving wetsuit

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The team at fourth element have introduced their latest freediving wetsuit, the RF2. Streamlined and high-performance, this two piece 6/5/4/mm suit has been developed for freedivers who want to enjoy maximum freedom and ultimate warmth.

Lined outer panels around the core, arms and legs provide durability, a Glideskin across the shoulders and the hood maximises hydrodynamics. This hybrid freediving wetsuit offers cool and cold water freedivers the freedom to explore their limits in comfort.

Director of fourth element, Paul Strike said, “We’ve designed this suit with the consultation of professional freedivers, instructors and with the knowledge of freedive suit specialists. The RF2 brings together fourth element’s knowledge of thermal protection with freediving expertise at the top of the sport to create a high performance recreational suit.”

The suit is both comfortable and practical, being more durable than traditional smoothskin suits whilst retaining excellent stretch and form fitting design. The inner of the suit has a smooth cell Metalite coating; this provides extra warmth retention and is more robust than traditional open cell.

Daan Verhoeven, Freediving Cameraman said, “The RF2 is possibly the best off-the peg suit I’ve ever tried. As soon as I got in the water, I instantly forgot the suit. I was just comfortable and could move without anything pinching or water coming in.”

Features

  • Streamline cut optimising glide
  • 5mm comfort, flexibility and warmth
  • Open cell interior, lined exterior
  • Smoothskin outer hood and shoulders for extra hydrodynamics
  • Beavertail closure
  • Supratex seat panel for extra durability

RF2 Hooded Jacket and Leggings are available in sizes S – XL.

RF2 Hooded Jacket 6/5/4mm RRP: £229.95 GBP / €275.00 EUR

RF2 Leggings 5/4mm RRP: £149.95 / €179.00 EUR

Find out more at www.fourthelement.com

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Marine Life & Conservation

Parineeti Chopra teams up with PADI to create Ocean Change

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PADI® is thrilled to announce an exceptional PADI AmbassaDiver™: Indian actress, singer and PADI Advanced Open Water Diver Parineeti Chopra.

“A PADI AmbassaDiver is someone who is passionate about using their force for good to encourage others to protect our blue planet,” says Kristin Valette Wirth, Chief Brand and Membership Officer. “We could not have found a more respected and authentic partner as Ms. Chopra, a long time ocean lover, to advance our shared mission of saving the ocean. She is unmatched as a shining example of how to protect what you love – and inspire others to do the same.”

Chopra, who has always loved the ocean, experienced the magic beneath the surface in 2013 when she took her first breath underwater in Bali. As soon as she surfaced from that dive, she was hooked – and protecting the ocean became very personal for her, receiving her PADI Open Water Diver certification later that year in Palau. Since then, she has inspired others around the world, from her family and friends to fans in India– to try scuba diving so they can join her in seeking adventure and saving the ocean.

“The first time I came up to the surface after diving, I was crying because it was such a life-changing experience,” says Ms. Chopra. “It is now something I can’t live without. I make sure I do a diving trip every three months despite my work schedule because it is my form of meditation. And it is the place I am immensely passionate about protecting.”

“We are all equal underwater and all speak the same language. Over the years I have seen the changes that have taken place beneath the surface. During my time as a brand ambassador for Tourism Australia, I witnessed the bleaching and damage that has occurred to the Great Barrier Reef.  I was so sad to see this and am now committed to being a diver with a purpose. I have also seen first-hand how marine reserves, like the ones in Sipadan, Malaysia and Palau, prove how valuable marine protected areas are. As a PADI Diver, I want to make sure that our entire blue planet gets the protection it deserves.” continues Ms. Chopra.

With over 67 million social media followers and having recently starred in the Netflix movie The Girl on the Train, Chopra joins an elite group of celebrity influencers determined to take personal action and create real change for healthier oceans. Spending nearly all her free time diving around the world, Chopra shares her love for the ocean with her fans, as diving is an important part of her life that allows her to return to nature and reset. She will work with PADI to encourage others to experience the beautiful world underwater as PADI Divers and join her in helping to achieve balance between humanity and the ocean.

“PADI created the AmbassaDiver programmeme to support extraordinary divers who dedicate their lives to illuminating the path that leads from curiosity, exploration, and discovery to understanding, stewardship and action. Ms. Chopra is playing a very important role in ocean conservation, lighting the way for others to become divers themselves and mobilising communities worldwide to seek adventure and save the ocean with her,” continues Valette Wirth.

Ms. Chopra has big plans for 2022 – including becoming a real-life PADI Mermaid and taking part in citizen science projects during her dive trips around the world. Follow Chopra’s dive adventures, projects and hands-on conservation efforts with PADI on her Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

To learn more about Chopra and the rest of the PADI AmbassaDiver team visit www.padi.com/ambassadivers.

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A luxurious dive resort in the heart of Lembeh Strait. Enjoy refined services while exploring the rich waters of Indonesia.

The resort is nestled around an ocean front deck and swimming-pool (with pool-bar) which is the perfect place to enjoy a sundowner cocktail at the end of a busy day of critter-diving.

All accommodation is full board and includes three sumptuous meals a day. Breakfast and lunch are buffet meals and in the evening dining is a la carte.

Book and stay before the end of June and benefit from no single supplements in all room types!

Booking deadline: Subject to availability – book and stay before end of June 2022

Call Diverse Travel on 01473 852002 or email info@diversetravel.co.uk.

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