A volcanic eruption typically threatens the local environment and the land-bound animals within it. A recent situation in the Pacific Ocean, however, was anything but typical.
On May 17, the Twitter account for the NASA Earth Observatory shared details of underwater eruptions occurring a few days earlier at the Kavachi Volcano, near the Solomon Islands in the Pacific Ocean. The space agency’s Landsat 9 satellite, which was launched last September in conjunction with the U.S. Geological Survey, captured images of what scientists described as a “Sharkcano” eruption east of New Guinea.
According to the Smithsonian Global Volcanism Program, the May eruptions were not the first time this happened at Kavachi, one of the Pacific Ocean’s most active underwater volcanoes. Major eruptions occurred in 2007 and 2014, and NASA researchers uncovered satellite images of plumes of water emerging from Kavachi’s crater.
Because of the unique nature of the Kavachi volcano’s location, an unexpected thriving shark population swims within the deep ocean crater.
Scientists found incredible footage of silky sharks and hammerheads “living within the volcano’s crater, which has been dubbed “Sharkcan.” Hammerheads can weigh anywhere between 500 and 1,000 pounds. The presence of these sharks, researchers wrote in a 2016 Oceanography article, brought up “new questions about the ecology of active submarine volcanoes and the extreme environments in which large marine animals can exist.”
“If gelatinous zooplankton, sharks and other fish species have a particular tolerance for hot and acidic water, do these groups have a greater chance of surviving human-induced changes to ocean chemistry and periods of increased volcanism on a global scale?” the article pondered.
The Oceanography researchers used a baited drop camera to dive 150 feet inside the crater, observing stingrays and jellyfish (among other creatures) living alongside the sharks.
The summit of Kavachi, NASA estimates, is approximately 20 meters, or roughly 65 feet, below sea level, while the base lies on the seafloor at a depth of 0.75 of a mile. The volcano formed in a tectonically active area known for phreatomagmatic eruptions. These are the interaction of magma and water, which causes explosive eruptions that can eject such matter as steam, ash and volcanic rock fragments.
Now, the shark inhabitants find themselves in the middle of such eruptions, with details yet to emerge about the safety of both the hammerhead and the silky shark species that swim within the crater.
According to NASA, Landsat 9 is the only U.S. satellite with the mission of observing “the global land surface at a moderate scale that shows both natural and human-induced change.”
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