Volcanoes on the seafloor can grow or collapse tens of metres in just a few days, a new study has found, suggesting that that the seabed is much more unstable than previously thought.
Researchers, led by Professor Tony Watts of Oxford University’s Department of Earth Sciences, report how they surveyed the topography of the active Monowai volcano, a submarine volcano on the southwest Pacific Ocean floor near Tonga, in May and June 2011.
Repeated sonar mapping of the seafloor carried out over a fortnight showed that whilst some parts of the volcano had collapsed by almost 19 metres elsewhere fresh eruptions of lava had raised the volcano’s height by up to 72 metres.
Because they are underwater, and so difficult to study, little is known about how submarine volcanoes evolve or the frequency with which they erupt and grow. This new research suggests that these volcanoes could be rapidly ‘pulsating’, making the seafloor environment much more dynamic than anyone suspected; a finding that has implications for understanding what causes tsunamis.