Four not-so-little sleeping volcanoes off the Sydney Coast were uncovered by a team of marine biologists. Iain Suthers, the leader of the expedition, points out the irony in the fact that we’re about to take some close-up pictures of Pluto, but are still much in the dark about the great unknown beneath the seas.
The scientists were looking for something totally different when they literally came up to the volcanoes. Being biologists, obviously, they were looking for life – specifically, larval lobsters still placed in their nursery grounds.
Still, don’t imagine that the team was just scampering about the ocean floor, no. Everything they managed to do is thanks to the Australian Marine National Facility’s Investigator.
The RV Investigator is a $120 million vessel designed, evidently, for investigating the ocean. And not only oceanographic-ally, but it is also equipped to serve many endeavors pertaining to biology, or geology. It can also look up to the sky and study the atmosphere. For these projects, it is able to spend up to 300 days at sea.
For this particular experiment, the ship had to cruise about 250 kilometers off the coast of Sydney, and search for those little larvae using its sonar to map the floor of the ocean. And what they saw on the ensuing map was awe-inspiring.
Four massive underwater volcanoes, taking up a lot of the ocean floor, were found. They are calderas, which means that when they erupted, the land crumbled down around them uncovering massive craters. They are also extinct, so don’t fear that they’ll erupt any time soon. The largest of the four has a crater of 1.5 kilometers and is above the ocean floor by a whopping 700 meters.
The volcanoes are said to be as old as 50 million years. Scientists say that pure luck led them to this discovery. Moninya Roughan, a scientist from New South Wales Unviersity even used the term serendipity to describe what they did. This is since the precise moment at which they changed the direction of the ship could’ve varied greatly, and could’ve pushed them in a completely different direction.
It is believed that this cluster of four volcanoes is a much needed discovery which will help researchers understand what made New Zealand separate from Australia between 40 and 80 million years in the past. Also, the discovery could not have been made by any other vessel, as the RV Investigator is the only vessel which can completely map the floor of the ocean, regardless of depth. The Southern Surveyor, its predecessor, could only scan up to about three thousand meters.
Besides this exciting discovery, the biologists eventually did find what they were looking for: an eddy off the coast of Sydney was teeming with marine life, from commercials species of fish like tailor, or bream, to what they were actually searching for: the lobster larvae.
So, tell me, what are you more excited about? Pluto, these volcanoes? The larvae? Or is it all of them?