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Around Undersea Volcano Other Intriguing Oregon Coast Science Happens | Video

Published 04/12/21 at 3:25 AM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Around Undersea Volcano Other Intriguing Oregon Coast Science Happens | Video

(Newport, Oregon) – There’s a whole lotta Sci-Fi-like action taking place off the Washington and Oregon coast, and no one really knows. Think the movie “Sphere” with a touch of “The Abyss,” throw in some X-Files and even a handful of high seas adventures, and you may have what’s going on with the Ocean Observatories Initiative (OOI), its enormous cabled array around the ocean floor and the occasional research vessel – all studying the Axial Mount undersea volcano and the entirety of that area where the two tectonic plates meet. (Photo above: an undersea vent spewing extremely hot material, courtesy Bill Chadwick / OSU/NSF/WHOI)

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There’s robots down there, a whole vast array of sensors, bizarre lifeforms that only live next to extremely hot volcanic vents and ships with cutting-edge technology collecting even more data.

Dive into all this just a little bit (pun intended), and it opens a whole new world both underneath the waves and across various scientific disciplines. It involves not just undersea quake information, but the latest from that massive undersea volcano, the strange life of the deep, and a few adventures on the waves, among other things.

A good overview can be found at the OOI Cabled Array site, and from there come some astounding photos of the world beneath the sea. It’s an enormous network of sensor nodes strung together on the ocean floor, mostly set along the Juan de Fuca plate and the Cascadia Subduction Zone. Diagrams of it look like a huge moonbase. Those sensors gather data on how the plates move as well as the volcano itself, with nodes and cables spreading from the southern Oregon all the way through Washington and into the Canadian coastline. They are then directly connected to places inland such as in Portland or Pacific City.

Graphic courtesy OOI Regional Cabbled Array

That Axial Seamount, in turn, is what brings out research vessels like the latest expedition from Oregon State University, University of Washington and the Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport, which rolled out of Newport docks back in September 2020 to some 260 miles offshore.

There on the OOI site are some fascinating blog posts from OSU marine geologist William Chadwick on what happened with that trip.

From the crew and scientists’ point of view alone there were some unusual aspects, Chadwick said. Foremost, it was a trip that was conducted during the COVID epidemic, which created its own challenges. Each member of the team had to quarantine under strict conditions two weeks prior to sailing.

Since it was September, the massive wildfires inland created bizarre spectacles around them, with extra hazy sunsets. Even they had to deal with the thick smoke that was the curse of the Pacific Northwest during that time.

Strong winds from the east sent large numbers of inland birds far out to sea, where undoubtedly most died. There was one remarkable, even adorable hanger-on from this bunch, however. Chadwick said an owl made himself at home on the R/V Thompson for much of the trip. (Above: courtesy Bill Chadwick / OSU/NSF/WHOI)

Then there are the dives, conducted by remotely-operated robots / drones with names like Jason or Sentry.

“All our work out here is aimed at better understanding how this very active submarine volcano works, how it affects the deep ocean environment, and when it might erupt next,” Chadwick writes in the blog.

The Axial Seamount last erupted in 2015, making quite a display. The volcano shrinks afterwards, so scientists are on the lookout for what they call inflation – how it’s building back up. Chadwick said between eruptions they inflate “like a balloon,” pushing up at something like 17 centimeters per year. Back then, the findings indicated the volcano wouldn’t erupt “for a few years.”

The ROV Jason placing a pressure sensor on the lava flow; courtesy Bill Chadwick / OSU/NSF/WHOI

Last month, another post by Chadwick said that inflation rate may be higher than previously thought.

Other finds included those freaky vents on the ocean floor (top photo), around the top of the caldera. They found two with a somewhat unusual makeup. Other wowing facts about these: as the vents churn out material at over 300 C they are often spewing out dissolved metals.

Below, see a video of the lava flows after the 2015 eruption, including those eerie vents.

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