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Thousand of new volcanoes revealed beneath the waves

July 09, 2007

The true extent to which the ocean bed is dotted with volcanoes has been revealed by researchers who have counted 201,055 underwater cones. This is over 10 times more than have been found before.
The team estimates that in total there could be about 3 million submarine volcanoes, 39,000 of which rise more than 1000 metres over the sea bed.
"The distribution of underwater volcanoes tells us something about what is happening in the centre of the Earth," says John Hillier of the University of Cambridge in the UK. That is because they give information about the flows of hot rock in the mantle beneath. "But the problem is that we cannot see through the water to count them," he says.
Satellites can detect volcanoes that are more than 1500 m high because the mass of the submerged mountains causes gravity to pull the water in around them. This creates domes on the ocean's surface that can be several metres high and can be detected from space.
Data overload
But there is a multitude of small volcanoes that have gone undetected. The only way of identifying them is to manually find their outline on sonar measurements taken from ships.

Image Above
: On July 3rd 2005, a volcano erupted in the Pacific Ocean near the uninhabited Minami Iwojima Island, about 1,400km (870 miles) south of Tokyo. The volcano erupted underwater. Volcanoes, like these, are called "submarine" volcanoes.
A 3,280 foot column of steam was investigated by the Japanese Coast Guard after the eruption was spotted by a member of Japan's armed forces stationed on the island of Iwojima.
An aerial photograph of the activity was captured by Reuters' Kyodo.

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