Desktop Project Part 4: Underwater volcano in teal

By Phil Plait | March 29, 2012 7:00 am

[Over the past few weeks, I’ve collected a metric ton of cool pictures to post, but somehow have never gotten around to actually posting them. Sometimes I was too busy, sometimes too lazy, sometimes they just fell by the wayside… but I decided my computer’s desktop was getting cluttered, and I’ll never clean it up without some sort of incentive. I’ve therefore made a pact with myself to post one of the pictures with an abbreviated description every day until they’re gone, thus cleaning up my desktop, showing you neat and/or beautiful pictures, and making me feel better about my work habits. Enjoy.]

I love pictures of volcanoes taken from Earth-observing satellites. I’ve posted lots of ’em, but I don’t think I’ve seen one quite like this:

That is an underwater volcano that’s been erupting since October of 2011. This picture, taken by the Earth Observing-1 satellite on February 10, 2012, shows the result. The teal water is sea water mixed with volcanic material swept around by the current. This volcano is located just offshore of El Hierro, the southwestern most of the volcanic Canary Islands off the coast of Morocco.

In case you were thinking those colors aren’t real, then take a look at this footage shot from a helicopter circling the volcano.

Yeah, those colors are real. Wow.

As you might expect, the volcano is growing. The peak is 210 meters (690 feet) above the sea floor, but only about 120 meters (390 feet) below the ocean surface. In one month it rose 10 meters! If it keeps erupting like this, then it won’t be too much longer before maps of the Canary Islands will have to be appended…

Image credit: NASA Earth Observatory/Jesse Allen and Robert Simmon, using EO-1 ALI data

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Cool stuff, Pretty pictures

Comments (11)

  1. Elfino

    At this moment, it seems that the eruption has almost stopped. Anyway is the second biggest eruption in historic time since the ones that happened in Lanzarote in the XVIIIth century.

    There is remaining activity due to degasification, perhaps some lava, but tremor is decreasing. There are few quakes… well, the party is over.

    Another interesting thing is that some vulcanologists think that there was another eruption at the north of the island under the ocean, but very deep. That’s why they haven’t found any direct evidence yet.

  2. Once again, Dr. Plait shows that he secretly wants to be a Vulcanologist! ūüėõ

  3. DennyMo

    Last word: “appended”?

    Neat pic!

  4. Jon Hanford

    There’s a wiki page on the 2011-2012 El Hierro eruption (with lots of good references):

  5. Blargh

    The color reminded me of the Icelandic Blue Lagoon.

    @ Larian LeQuella

    Once again, Dr. Plait shows that he secretly wants to be a Vulcanologist! ūüėõ

    Who doesn’t? :)

  6. Steve Metzler

    Last word: ‚Äúappended‚ÄĚ?

    Those were in fact Phil’s very last words as the 2000 ft. high tidal wave generated by that very volcano crashed over his home in Boulder, CO. Death from the Oceans!, ain’t it a bitch? :-)

    But seriously:

    Scientists Warn Of Massive Tidal Wave From Canary Island Volcano

  7. Jay Fox

    Wow. From the video, it looks a lot closer to the surface than 390 feet. The water almost looks like it’s boiling. What is the water temperature at the surface? How far away might that extra heat be measurable?

  8. Jon Hanford

    @5 Jay Fox

    “The water almost looks like it‚Äôs boiling.”

    You’re right. Check out some dramatic footage taken back in November (and a little closer to sea level):

    I wonder if the gulls seen flying low over the eruption in Phil’s vid are looking for a freshly cooked meal?

  9. Infinite123Lifer

    Imagine all those nutrients!

  10. colonelharrumph

    Wouldn’t want to be flying too low downwind….

  11. Matt B.

    Whoa, I thought they were in a boat until I saw the shadow of the helicopter at about 2:00.

    I got a little pareidolia at 3:53–there’s a right-facing silhouette of a face.

    I don’t think a map can be appended (well, you can add an appendix, but it doesn’t change the map), although it could certainly be amended.

    So what caused the nearby cliff? Did volcanic eruptions cause the hillside to slide into the sea?


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