Washington, May 6 (ANI): Marine scientists, on an expedition to an erupting undersea volcano near the Island of Guam, have discovered that it appears to be continuously active, has grown a new cone during the past three years, and its activity supports a unique biological community thriving despite the eruptions.
The international science team on the expedition, funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), captured dramatic new information about the eruptive activity of NW Rota-1.
"NW Rota-1 remains the only place on Earth where a deep submarine volcano has ever been directly observed while erupting," said Barbara Ransom, program director in NSF's Division of Ocean Sciences, which funded the research.
Scientists first observed eruptions at NW Rota-1 in 2004 and again in 2006, according to Bill Chadwick, an Oregon State University (OSU) volcanologist and chief investigator on the expedition.
This time, however, they discovered that the volcano had built a new cone 40 meters high and 300 meters wide.
"As the cone has grown, we've seen a significant increase in the population of animals that lives atop the volcano. We're trying to determine if there is a direct connection between the increase in the volcanic activity and that population increase," Chadwick said.
Animals in this unusual ecosystem include shrimp, crab, limpets and barnacles, some of which are new species.
"They're specially adapted to their environment, and are thriving in harsh chemical conditions that would be toxic to normal marine life," said Chadwick. "Life here is actually nourished by the erupting volcano," he added.
According to Verena Tunnicliffe, a biologist from the University of Victoria, most of the animals are dependent on diffuse hydrothermal venting that provides basic food in the form of bacterial filaments coating the rocks.
"It appears that since 2006 the diffuse venting has spread and, with it, the vent animals," Tunnicliffe said. "There is now a very large biomass of shrimp on the volcano, and two species are able to cope with the volcanic conditions," she added.
The shrimp reveal intriguing adaptations to volcano living.
"The 'Loihi' shrimp has adapted to grazing the bacterial filaments with tiny claws like garden shears," said Tunnicliffe. "The second shrimp is a new species - they also graze as juveniles, but as they grow to adult stage, their front claws enlarge and they become predators," she added.
The new studies are important because NW Rota-1 provides a one-of-a-kind natural laboratory for the investigation of undersea volcanic activity and its relation to chemical-based ecosystems at hydrothermal vents, where life on Earth may have originated. (ANI)