The Hidden Submarine Volcano that Erupts Like an Atomic Bomb

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The Hidden Submarine Volcano that Erupts Like an Atomic Bomb

The Earth is rife with seismic activity, like a submarine volcano. These volcanoes aren’t seen readily from the surface, hiding beneath the waves as giant fissures or cracks along oceanic ridges. That said, they hide massive power behind them. Get the scoop on some of the most terrifying natural phenomena on our humble planet.

What Makes a Submarine Volcano?

The lava formed from an undersea volcano is different from the same sort on land.
©"Hydrothermal seeps, Daikoku volcano (expl0046 5102285274)" by NOAA Photo Library is licensed under BY 2.0. - Original / License

Simply put, a submarine volcano is an active formation that exists well below the water line of the world’s oceans. While they have much in common with their land-based counterparts, a submarine volcano is a far murkier subject as a whole.

How Deep Can They Go?

Hydrothermal vents can often be found nearby for an undersea volcano.
©Submarine Ring of Fire 2006 Exploration, NOAA Vents Program / CC BY 2.0 Deed - Original / License

There isn’t a theoretical limit to how deep an undersea volcano can go. Some like Submarine 1922, reach down multiple atmospheric pressures, with the total depth reaching around 16,000 below the water’s surface.

Ongoing Research and Learning

NOAA has been putting overtime into learning about these formations over the last twenty years.
©"expl2299" by NOAA Photo Library is licensed under BY 2.0. - Original / License

Over the last twenty years, there has been a greater understanding of how a submarine volcano works. However, that doesn’t paint the full picture. While the Ring of Fire is a subject of intense research and dedication, there is still much to be learned when it comes to volcanoes found under the sea.


Seamounts are just underwater mountains, for lack of a better term.
©"Seamount" by NOAA Ocean Exploration & Research is licensed under BY-SA 2.0. - Original / License

So, what is a seamount? Most of the examples of a submarine volcano you’ll find around the world are long dormant. However, when they were active, you were likely to find the lava flow creating massive rock formations. These formations, dubbed seamounts, are like underwater mountains well below the water’s surface.

How Scientists Identify Eruptions

Bacteria can form cellular networks on nearby lava formations, as seen from this lava found outside of Tenerife.
©"Una-nueva-bacteria-surge-tras-la-erupcion-del-volcan-submarino-de-El-Hierro" by Universidad de Barcelona (UB), departamento de Dinámica de la Tierra y del Océano de la Facultad de Ciencias de la Tierra (presumably Miquel Canals et al.) is licensed under BY-SA 4.0. - Original / License

While the secrets of any submarine volcano are still in their nascent state with scientists, there are some tell-tale signs of an incoming eruption. In 2019, scientists discovered circular plumes of volcanic activity from satellite imagery as well as a large pumice stone floating in the South Pacific.

Recently Active Submarine Volcanoes

Fukutoku-Okanoba’s eruption could be seen from space despite being nearly 100 feet below the sea. The force from this volcano generated rivaled that of any terrestrial atomic bomb detonation.
©"Fukutoku-Okanoba Eruption 08-12-2022 2127Z to 08-13-2022 0335Z" by Japan Meteorological Agency (satellite), Digital Typhoon (website) is licensed under BY 4.0. - Original / License

The vast majority of submarine volcanoes have been inactive over the last million years or so. That said, there are some recent examples of activity like Fukutoku-Okanoba in 2021, the Axial Seamount in 2015, and Kick ’em Jenny in 2015.

What Water Does to Undersea Lava

Pillow lava is a curious occurrence that only happens with undersea volcanoes.
©"Pillow lava at Oamaru" by Avenue is licensed under BY-SA 3.0. - Original / License

Interestingly, the ever-present water around a submarine volcano changes the texture and shape of lava during an eruption. The initial spurts of lava turn into volcanic glass, which you can occasionally find washing up on sea shores. However, the more interesting development is pillow lava. Pillow lava is created from the water supercooling the outer surface of lava, allowing a large formation to occur as lava flows into the shape.

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