Magazine article Oceanus

Serendipitously Snagged from the Seafloor

Magazine article Oceanus

Serendipitously Snagged from the Seafloor

Article excerpt

Magma erupting at the seafloor often forms "pillow" lava. Molten rock at 2,200[degrees]F hits 35[degrees]F seawater, and "within a fraction of a second, a glassy skin forms on the lava surface, encapsulating a blob of lava," said WHOI volcanologist Adam Soule. "Continued injection of lava causes the pillow to stretch and expand, like a water balloon."

In 2010, Karen Harpp of Colgate University led a multi-institutional expedition off the Galapagos Islands to explore seafloor volcanism. To collect seafloor rock samples, scientists cast a dredge on a cable into the deep. Somehow, the cable snagged a huge pillow lava in a nook between two bulbous lobes and wrenched it up from the seafloor.

The pillow lava weighed nearly 800 pounds. "It is among the largest lava samples ever collected from the seafloor," said WHOI marine geologist Dan Fornari. He arranged to send the lava back to WHOI, where he and other scientists, including Soule, geochemist Mark Kurz, and geologist Eric Mittelstaedt, could analyze it further. …

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