Largest Volcano on Earth the Size of New Mexico Found Beneath Pacific Ocean

 Tamu Massif large volcano discovered on Earth1

A team of scientists from the University of Houston have identified the largest volcano ever documented on Earth, which is the size of New Mexico and lies in the depths of the Pacific Ocean. According to a press release from the University of Houston, the behemoth wonder almost reaches the size of some of the giant volcanoes found on Mars, making it one of the largest in the entire Solar System.

Tamu Massif

The newly “discovered” volcano is approximately a thousand miles east of Japan, and is called Tamu Massif. Tamu Massif is part of an oceanic plateau, situated deep at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean, which was believed to have formed following the eruption of a myriad of underwater volcanoes, forming over 130 million years ago.

Obviously, scientists haven’t only just noticed the massive structure, and have been working tirelessly to determine whether Tamu Massif consisted of a large number of eruption points, or whether it was truly a single, large volcano.

The Study

To find the answer, scientists extracted core samples and datasets from the Joint Oceanographic Institutions for Deep Earth Sampling (JOIDES) Resolution ship, involved in scientific drilling expeditions.

JOIDES Resolution Ship on drilling expedition to Tamu Massif

Core samples were taken during the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program (IODP) venture, during 2009, and seismic reflection data was obtained during two additional expeditions; seismic reflection data is used to approximate the subsurface characteristics of a region, and is similar to the principles of sonar.

Expedition 324 to explore Tamu Massif volcanoUsing this body of evidence, researchers were able to piece together the different parts of the puzzle. The mass of basalt that forms the Tamu Massif volcano was derived from a single point of eruption, located at its center, and no additional secondary sources of volcanism could be identified.

Geochemical investigation of the acquired core samples suggested that samples taken from different points were comprised of the same material, dating back to the same period in time; this substantiates the notion that Tamu Massif is one enormous volcano, the Size of New Mexico. Based upon this newly discovered knowledge, Tamu Massif then became the largest volcano on Earth.

William Sager, the study’s lead author from the University of Houston, said that there could be even larger volcanoes in existence on our planet:

“There may be larger volcanoes, because there are bigger igneous features out there such as the Ontong Java Plateau, but we don’t know if these features are one volcano or complexes of volcanoes.”

Massif’s Size

The Tamu Massif volcano, in terms of sheer size, eclipses that of the next largest volcano, Mauna Loa, which can be found in Hawaii. Tamu Massif covers an area of 120,000 square miles, with a base that covers a 4-mile stretch of water; for reference, Mauna Loa merely extends over an area of 2,000 square miles.

However, the incline of the volcano is incredibly slight. Sager explains that the volcano is by no stretch of the imagination very high, but, rather, it is incredibly wide. Apparently, if you were to stand at the volcano’s flank (the edge of a volcano’s mound) you wouldn’t be able to determine which direction was down hill. Historically, massive quantities of magma oozed from the epicenter of the volcano to form a broad surface, which set to form a shape similar to that of a shield.

The Future

Sager stresses the importance of his work for the future ambitions of fellow geologists. He expounds upon the huge volumes of magma, siphoned from the Earth’s mantle, that would have been needed to create such an enormous, natural structure. He suggests that his research could offer some fundamental clues as to how other gigantic volcanoes could have developed. He expresses the need for further research efforts, as his work could offer insight into how “… the Earth’s interior works.”

The volcano is believed to have become extinct after a relatively short duration of activity around about the late Jurassic period.

The team continue to investigate precisely how the largest volcano on Earth, the size of New Mexico, managed to form in the first place. According to the National Geographic, Sager seems to believe its creation resulted from a thin crust, a boundary between different tectonic plates underneath the Pacific Ocean, and the presence of high temperature magma. He plans to analyze the magnetic properties of Tamu Massif to establish exactly where the magma originated from, in the first place, believing yet more mysteries await.

By: James Fenner

Nature Journal Source

University of Houston Press Release

National Geographic Link