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Kavachi VolcanoJune 5, 2000 — There's a new volcanic island in the Pacific Ocean, and a NOAA scientist was one of the few people to be present at its birth.

Edward Baker, a researcher at NOAA's Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in Seattle, Wash., was part of an international team of scientists aboard the Australian research vessel Franklin when the volcano Kavachi began a new phase of island-building activity.

"After studying several deep underwater volcanic eruptions for the past 10 years, this was an unprecedented opportunity to witness and sample submarine volcanic activity as it was occurring," Baker said. (Click images for larger view.)

[Photos courtesy of Dr. Brent McInnes, Chief Scientist from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) in Australia.]

The new island is between Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands.

Kavachi VolcanoBaker and his colleagues from New Zealand detected numerous chemical and particle plumes in the water column that extended at least five kilometers from the center of the volcano.

Baker is a member of the Vents team at the NOAA laboratory which conducts research on the impacts and consequences of submarine volcanoes and hydrothermal venting on the world's oceans.

"Vents researchers have studied the aftereffects of several deep-sea eruptions, but we've never had the opportunity before to collect data and samples during an eruption," Baker said. "This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for scientists."

While the team was in the area, the volcano spewed rocks and ash 50 to 70 meters into the air and sent steam clouds hundreds of meters high. Although the peak of the volcano was still two meters below the surface when the research team departed on May 14, scientists say that satellite images should confirm the volcano, now a new island, clearly above the surface.

Baker noted that a principal scientific effort was to discover if eruptions were occurring at deeper depths as well.

"We towed a hydrographic and optical sensor instrument package entirely around the volcano. We found plumes of ash as deep at 1,200 meters. We will analyze the ash to determine if the ash originated from deep eruptions or the settling from surface waters," Baker said.

Kavachi VolcanoWhile watching a volcano erupt at fairly close range is spectacular in itself, Baker said that the best time came later in the day.

"Certainly the best show unfolded after sundown," he said. "As the sky darkened, we were able to see that the exploding rocks were incandescent, so hot they glowed a bright red."

The shipload of volcanologists on board were an appreciative audience.

Relevant Web Sites
NOAA's Vents Program

Real-Time Undersea Volcano Monitoring

NOAA Pacific Marine Environmental Lab

Media Contact:
Jana Goldman, NOAA Research, (301) 713-2483 ext. 181.