Monday, July 13, 2015

SCIENCE - Undersea Volcanoes

"To study Earth’s most extreme environment, researchers wire up an undersea volcano" PBS NewsHour 7/7/2015


SUMMARY:  Hundreds of miles off the coast of Oregon and Washington, there's an undersea volcano known as Axial Seamount.  Two months ago when it began spewing lava, it wasn't a secret to a group of scientists engaged in a groundbreaking research project.  Hari Sreenivasan reports on their Cabled Observatory -- a network of sensors, moorings and cameras that offers views of a little-known world.

HARI SREENIVASAN (NewsHour):  What if a volcano erupted and nobody knew about it?  That used to be the case 300 miles off the coast of Oregon and Washington for undersea volcano known as Axial Seamount.

But two months ago, when it started spewing lava, these scientists knew instantly.

You have 25 sensors sitting on the lip of a volcano, and it’s all feeding information back here.

JOHN DELANEY, Oceanographer, University of Washington:  That’s right.  It’s really exciting.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  University of Washington oceanographer John Delaney is the director of a groundbreaking research project called the Cabled Array, also known as the Cabled Observatory, that has, in effect, turned Axial Seamount into the world’s first wired volcano.

JOHN DELANEY:  Well, we’re standing in our control room that allows folks that are here on campus at the University of Washington to actually interact with the instruments that might be as much as 400 kilometers, 300 miles offshore.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  On the day of the eruption, a network of sensors on the volcano started measuring more than 8,000 small earthquakes, and the seafloor dropped seven feet.

DEBBIE KELLEY, University of Washington:  We have been waiting our whole lives to have that kind of information come in.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  Debbie Kelley was one of those closely watching the eruption data.  She’s a chief scientist on the team who studies underwater volcanoes.

This volcanic ridge is like thousands of miles of ridges that circle the Earth beneath the oceans.  It’s also a spot where two tectonic plates pull apart, making it an ideal location to study.  Kelley says that the Cabled Observatory, which will eventually send back real-time data and images anyone can access, will finally give scientists, and the general public, insight into a complex world they know very little about.

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