TribLIVE

| USWorld


 
Larger text Larger text Smaller text Smaller text | Order Photo Reprints

Planet's largest volcano found hiding in the Pacific Ocean

William Sager, University of Houston
A 3D plot of the topography of Tamu Massif, the largest volcano found on Earth to date.

Daily Photo Galleries

By The Washington Post
Friday, Sept. 6, 2013, 8:33 p.m.
 

The largest single volcano found on Earth was quietly hiding in the depths of the Pacific Ocean, about a thousand miles east of Japan, having been extinct for millions of years. But scientists have discovered the dome-shaped behemoth, which has a footprint the size of New Mexico and even rivals the biggest one in the solar system, Olympus Mons on Mars.

It's “a gee-whiz moment, where we say, ‘There are volcanoes here as big as any we've seen elsewhere in the solar system,' so it's sort of like discovering a new whale or something like that,” said William Sager, a professor in the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Houston and lead author of a study published online Thursday in Nature Geoscience.

The discovery topples the previous world record-holder for largest volcano — Mauna Loa, one of the five that form the Big Island of Hawaii.

“Olympus Mons is the 800-pound gorilla of the solar system,” said Sager. “We didn't know these massive volcanoes were here on Earth.”

The team named it Tamu Massif — TAMU for Texas A&M University.

Tamu Massif formed layer by layer as fast-moving lava flowed from a central area at the peak and ran down its flank, cooling in place. The volcano is completely submerged, and Sager doesn't believe that its peak ever rose above sea level over its 145-million-year lifetime.

There is no danger of an eruption. “That's probably a good thing, since we've been able to correlate mass extinction with some of these beasts,” said Clive R. Neal, a volcanologist at the University of Notre Dame.

Neal, who was not involved in the study, said the discovery of such an oversize volcano on Earth is groundbreaking for volcanology.

“This finding is paving the way to really rewriting some of the textbooks,” he said. “The term ‘supervolcano' might be a reality.”

Although Tamu Massif has a gigantic footprint, it is relatively short compared to Olympus Mons. The newly discovered volcano rises only a few miles above the sea floor, while the gargantuan Martian mountain rises 16 miles at its peak.

 

 
 


Show commenting policy

Most-Read Nation

  1. Authorities in California search for 5 jail escapees
  2. White House intrusions reveal problems with security, Secret Service
  3. Pentagon program seeks to retain U.S. technological edge against foreign rivals
  4. Ticks reduce moose population in northern states
  5. GOP senators fret U.S. would let Iran disconnect, not scrap, centrifuges
  6. Threats from Mexican cartels lead protesters to scrap immigration rallies, organizer says
  7. 121 tourists stranded on schooner near Statue of Liberty
  8. Pope picks moderate to be Chicago archbishop
  9. Egyptian Bary admits links to 1998 U.S. Embassy bombings in Africa
  10. Hurricane shattered Charleston, S.C., tested mayor 25 years ago
  11. New DNA testing in twins welcomed by prosecutors
Subscribe today! Click here for our subscription offers.