Giant Deep-Sea Volcano With "Moat of Death" Found

Richard A. Lovett
for National Geographic News
April 14, 2006

Beneath the waves of the South Pacific lies a volcanic realm nearly as strange as that featured in TV's hit drama Lost.

But instead of a mysterious island, scientists have found a bubbling submarine volcano whose weird features include a swirling vortex, a host of strange animals, and a fearsome zone of toxic waters dubbed the Moat of Death.

The volcano, described in this week's online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, sits within the crater of a gigantic underwater mountain rising more than 4,500 meters (15,000 feet) from the ocean floor near the island of Samoa (see map).

The seamount, called Vailulu'u, is an active volcano, with a 2-mile-wide (3.2-kilometer-wide) crater. The cone rising within it has been dubbed Nafanua, for the Samoan goddess of war.

Volcano Teeming With Life

Five years ago Hubert Staudigel of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, California, and his colleagues mapped the mountain using remote-sensing techniques.

When they returned to the site in 2005 for a more thorough study with submersible vehicles, the scientists found that the seamount had grown a new, 300-meter (1,000-foot) lava cone, a sign of renewed volcanic activity.

The peak of the cone, 700 meters (2,300 feet) below sea level, turned out to be teeming with life.

"It was just full of eels," Staudigel said.

"When we sent the submersible down, we found hundreds of eels scurrying out of the rock. Normally you'd see one or two."

"That's very spectacular," he continued, "because there's not much food at that depth. You wonder what the eels live off of."

At first the scientists thought the eels were eating microbes that lived near the cone's volcanic vents. But when some of the eels were caught, their stomachs turned out to be full of shrimp.

Continued on Next Page >>


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