Kavachi Island

Not by Fire but by Ice




 "Fiery birth of a new Pacific island!"  


Photo by Richard Arculus

Thus read the May 24, 2000 announcement from the Australian Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Organization (CSIRO). 

CSIRO had sent a team of researchers to the Soloman Islands east of Australia to study a "dormant" underwater volcano.

Instead, their target was very much alive.

The scientists watched in amazement as lava and ash blasted through the surface of the Pacific Ocean and then continued rising more than 200 feet into the sky. Plumes of steam and smoke rose thousands of feet above the ocean's surface.

They were witnessing the birth of the Island Kavachi.

They were also witnessing "global warming" at work.

Volcanic islands such as Kavachi are formed as underwater volcanoes pump vast amounts of red-hot basalt into the seas. The basalt can reach temperatures of up to 2,150 degrees Fahrenheit; ten times the boiling point.

Kavachi confirms observations that submarine volcano chains contibute significantly to heat entering the oceans, said Gary Massoth of the Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences in Darwin.

Rising more than 3,000 feet above the ocean floor, Kavachi is just one of thousands of volcanic islands that contribute to ocean warming. Kavachi has formed at least 8 times in the past 60 years, only to recede beneath the water. At times, Kavachi has reached more than 500 feet in length.

Most underwater volcanoes—also called "seamounts"—erupt so far beneath the sea that their steam and gasses never reach the surface. Still, they contribute an incredible amount of heat to the world's oceans.

Submarine volcanoes can be even larger than above-water volcanoes. Hawaii's undersea Loihi volcano, for instance, towers almost 10,000 feet above the ocean floor, which is taller than Mount St. Helens.

Even then, Loihi's top remains about a half mile below the surface of the ocean. Researchers estimate that Loihi will reach the surface of the ocean and officially become an island in about 100,000 years.

As with other underwater volcanoes, Loihi contributes to ocean warming. During a 1996 eruption of Loihi, researchers recorded the temperature of the surrounding water at almost 400F.

Worldwide, as many as 30,000 islands have been formed by underwater volcanoes, say researchers. The major islands in Hawaii, for example, were built around the active volcanoes at their centers. Hawaii's Big Island was formed by five large volcanoes, including Mauna Loa, the largest active volcano on Earth.

Other islands birthed by undersea volcanic eruptions include the islands of Japan, the West Indies islands in the Caribbean, the Azores in the Atlantic, and hundreds of islands in the Pacific.

Today, most of the world's underwater volcanoes remain unmonitored, leaving us with no inkling of how much they contribute to "global warming."

 I think we owe it to ourselves to find out.

See more photos of Kavachi erupting:

See also It's not global warming, it's ocean warming


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