Scientists to explore huge undersea Havre Volcano

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Researchers are setting out for an exploration drive of a huge underwater volcano dubbed ‘Havre’ that has been producing tonnes of pumice (solidified magma from a volcanic eruption) and many of which have come ashore to the beaches of Australia and New Zealand.

The volcano was discovered by an airline passenger, who reported seeing the lava flow from the air, and reported it to scientific authorities. Vulcanologist Rebecca Carey from the University of Tasmania in Australia, one of the researchers from the five-nation team, will travel to the Kermadec arc, which is about 1,000 km north of New Zealand.

Carey told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) on Monday that the eruption has produced about a cubic kilometre of pumice. She said the eruption of the undersea Havre Volcano was a one-in-10,000-year event and a rare chance for scientists to learn more about volcano.

“Havre probably has an eruption frequency of maybe one of these type of eruptions every 10,000 years, so it’s just our luck I guess that it erupted and we saw satellite images and we’ve also got pumice,” she said.

Carey said a passenger of an airline jet looked out of her window and saw these rafts of volcanic pumice and then contacted the Geological Survey of New Zealand, and the discovery would help researchers better understand the impact of underwater volcanoes.

Dr Carey said the team will use two robots to find out more about the Havre volcanic eruption: An autonomous underwater vehicle, “Sentry,” and a remotely operated vehicle, “Jason.”

Sentry is equipped with sonars and the ability to take digital photos of deep-sea terrain. Jason will allow scientists access to the seafloor without their having to leave the ship. It will collect samples of rock, sediment and marine life and transmit video and images.

Dr Carey said the voyage was the exploration of a new frontier- the sea floor.

“That is exciting in itself, but the Havre eruption is very interesting in that it challenges current controversies in submarine volcanism.

“For example, theory predicts eruptions of this magma type should not be explosive at about a 1000 metres below sea level. This eruption was sourced from multiple vents that extend maybe as deep at 1600 metres but as shallow as 900 metres- so this eruption is contradicting that theory.”

Dr Carey said the team is also interested in the role of water in the volcano’s eruptions.