WHOOP! Aggie volcano beneath the sea confirmed largest on Earth

In 1993, oceanographer William Sager began studying the massive underwater mountain mass about 1,000 miles off the coast of Japan in a mountain range known as the Shatsky Rise. At that time, Sager was with the Texas A&M College of Geosciences. He nicknamed the large mountain mass “Tamu Massif” —“Tamu” for the abbreviation of Texas A&M and “Massif” for the French word frequently used to describe a large mountain mass. 

Tamu Massif

Ten years later Dr. William Sager, now with the University of Houston’s Earth and Atmospheric Sciences Department, announced that Tamu Massif was actually one single volcano on September 5, 2013.

Since they are submerged beneath the oceans in remote locations and therefore difficult to study, far less is known about volcanoes beneath the sea than those that tower above us on land. The origins of underwater volcanoes are murky; their structures and how they erupt and evolve is unclear. 

Multichannel seismic profiles and rock samples taken from Integrated Ocean Drilling Program core sites were used to interpret the structure of Tamu Massif, the oldest and largest edifice of the Shatsky Rise oceanic plateau in the northwestern Pacific Ocean. 

Tamu Massif is seen to be a single, immense volcano, constructed from massive lava flows that emanated from the volcano center to form a broad, shield-like mound the size of New Mexico. The volcano has anomalously low slopes, probably due to high effusion rates and low viscosity of the erupting lava (i.e. being underneath all that water makes it difficult for the lava to flow).

The largest single volcano on Earth, Tamu Massif is comparable in size to the largest known volcano in the solar system, Olympus Mons on Mars. Data from Tamu Massif document a class of oceanic volcanoes that is distinguished by its size and shape from the thousands of common seamounts found throughout the oceans. 

Next year, William Sager and his team will return to Tamu Massif to collect more data bearing on its shape and formation.

Olympus Mons above, Hawaiian islands below, to scale.

Dr. William Sager will give a vivid presentation on Tamu Massif at the Houston Museum of Natural Science on Tuesday, June 24 at 6:30 p.m. to complement Nature Unleashed: Inside Natural Disasters, now on display at HMNS.

HMNS Distinguished Lecture
Tamu Massif, The World’s Biggest Volcano Is Hiding Beneath the Sea
William W. Sager, Ph.D.
Tuesday, June 24, 6:30 p.m.
Click here or call 713-639-4629 for advance tickets.

Massif Blog 2Tamu Massif, the world’s largest volcano, was discovered in 2013 in the northwestern Pacific Ocean by a team of researchers lead by Dr. William Sager. Constructed from massive lava flows that emanated from the volcano’s center, Tamu Massif is comparable in size to the largest known volcano in the solar system, Olympus Mons on Mars. Dr. Sager will explain how he is unlocking the murky secrets of oceanic plateau structure, how they erupt and evolve using multichannel seismic profiles and core samples from the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program, and why this new data is important to you. Professor of Earth and atmospheric sciences at the University of Houston, Dr. William W. Sager leads research vessels to sea to collect geological data. 

Massif Blog 3

 

Which natural disaster are YOU? Nature Unleashed brings the perfect storm to HMNS

Discover the most incredible, violent, stunning events of the natural world in Nature Unleashed: Inside Natural Disasters, opening at HMNS on Friday, May 23. From violent tremors to massive explosions, from the eye of the storm to funnel clouds, Nature Unleashed takes you inside natural disasters for a perspective like you’ve never had before.

tornadoAnd now (via a super-unscientific method), you can find out which natural disaster fits you best! Just pick your favorite title below:

What’s the title of your natural disaster autobiography?

  1. Shaken, Never Stirred: How I Moved the World
  2. My Awesomeness Grants More Awesomeness (M.A.G.M.A)
  3. Topical Depression: Spiraling Out of Control
  4. Sharknado Ain’t Got Nothin’ on Me

Scroll down to find out your natural disaster.

If you answered 1, then you’re an earthquake!
If you answered 2, then you’re a volcano!
If you answered 3, then you’re a hurricane!
If you answered 4, then you’re a tornado!

Here’s what your natural disaster says about you:

EARTHQUAKE
You are the constant rearranger. Never content to leave things be for too long, eventually you’ve just gotta shake it up! You carry the weight of the world on your shoulders but try to hide it most of the time: stealth is your middle name. People may not notice you until you reach your breaking point – but then no one can ignore you!

Must-see destination: Mariana Trench
Perfect career: Fracking
Best friends: Terra “The Tectonic Plate” Firma and Gio Thur-Mal

VOLCANO
You’re the rock of the group — until you’re not. Most of the time, you’re as stable as can be. Cool and collected, taking it all in. But every so often something sets you off and you EXPLODE. No one can hide from you when that fiery temper comes out. People worship and revile you all over the world for your destructive and rejuvenating capabilities.

Must-see destination:  Pompeii
Favorite movie: Joe vs. the Volcano
Favorite pastime: Making Hawaii

HURRICANE
You never stay in one place for too long, but you sure do make an impression — or, rather, depression (of the air) wherever you go. You are very strong, but don’t know the extent of your strength. You absolutely love media attention, but your 15 minutes are never really enough. So you make sure to come around at regular intervals so that no one can forget about you.

Must-see destination: Florida
Favorite drink: Cyclone
Favorite activity: Changing your name

TORNADO
You’re still mad Dorothy got the credit for dropping a house on the Wicked Witch of the West. You tend to have short bursts of activity, but that doesn’t mean you don’t put your all into it. You’re generally pretty clumsy, and tend to make a mess wherever you go.

Must-see destination: Oz
Favorite game: Twister
Favorite movie: Sharknado

Now that you’ve been unscientifically diagnosed as the force of nature you are, come learn about the real science behind all of these natural disasters at Nature Unleashed: Inside Natural Disasters.

Feel the ground shake during an earthquake, witness the fury of an erupting volcano, or get swept away by a hurricane or tornado. This exhibit is full of discoveries just waiting to happen!

Get your tickets today! Nature Unleashed: Inside Natural Disasters opens at HMNS May 23.  

Note: heat from active volcano may damage running shoes.

at the base of the volcanoRecently I went on a trip to Antigua, Guatemala and had the opportunity to go to the top of an active volcano just a short distance away from the city called Pacaya. One of the main reasons we chose to visit Antigua was the proximity to active volcanoes because ever since I saw the Ring of Fire IMAX when I was a child I have been fascinated by volcanoes and lava.

So we reserved our spot to go to the volcano and they gave us a slip of paper that told us to pack snacks, water, a flashlight (we signed up for the afternoon/night hike) and wear running shoes or hiking boots. The tour group picked us up at our hotel and we were off for our one and a half hour ride in a van packed with people on winding roads – for a girl like me who gets a little car sick, keeping the window cracked was important on this drive.

When we arrived at the base of the volcano, we were immediately met by the children who live in the village at the base of the volcano, with hands full of walking sticks and “ponchos” telling us to buy these things from them.  The “ponchos” mostly turned out to be garbage bags but it was rainy and the thought of a long hike in the rain for those in our group who did not bring rain gear probably made garbage bags look like a reasonable idea! The children demonstrated how sturdy and good their walking sticks were and said “stick for you?” One man (pictured) did not want a stick but this little boy followed him for about the first 10 minutes of the hike. You might also note that this man was not wearing appropriate footwear – socks and sandals seem like a very bad choice on a rainy day up a volcano – but maybe that’s just me.

Our guide told us that the trip to the top of the volcano was going to be at most 1 hour and 45 minutes. The rain decided to stop a few minutes into our trip so we were able to pack up our rain gear and continue on our journey. The first hour or so of the hike was on steep, narrow dirt paths in the forest; as you can imagine it was pretty muddy after the afternoon rain. It was at this point that I knew it was going to be my fate to have very muddy pants before our ride home. With no lighting along the path the journey back down the volcano was sure to be a slippery adventure.

With about 30 minutes left in our trip up to the top we walked out of the forest and the landscape changed completely – suddenly there were no more trees or life of any kind – only black lava rocks as far as the eye could see. The path we took across was mostly made of tiny tiny rocks, which is very much like trying to climb uphill in a sandpit or on a treadmill – you use a lot of energy without making much progress. The altitude change made it harder to breathe and I kept having to take little breaks, but with a glowing river of lava in sight it was definitely no time to quit.

When we reached the top, the heat radiating from the lava beneath the thin crust of cooled lava felt a lot like the beginning of a sunburn on my skin. We used our trusty sticks to tap the surface in front of each step to be sure the crust would not crack beneath our weigh – sometimes the tap would cause a whole patch of crust to fall in – yikes! Certain cracks exposed glowing lava flowing beneath – it was incredible! I’m including some photos below but I realize now it’s pretty difficult to get the sense of the lava flowing from any of the photos – but believe me – it was an awesome experience and I would recommend it to anyone who has the opportunity to see an active volcano up close. It was completely worth the wacky van ride and trying uphill journey!

A WORD OF ADVICE FOR ANYONE INTERESTED IN TAKING THIS TYPE OF JOURNEY - When we made it back to the bottom of the very muddy mountain in the dark of night (and yes, I did manage to slide down a bit of the trail on my rear end) I realized that my running shoes were a slightly different shape! The heat of the surface near the flowing lava heated the puffy layer of rubber in the soles of my shoes and as I tromped down the mountain the softened layer shifted and my shoes were newly lopsided. Perhaps hiking boots would have been a better choice. Oh well, I guess you learn something every day! Also, note that the stick you may “purchase” at the bottom of the volcano will likely be more of a “rental” when you return to the bottom and the same children who 3 hours earlier had sold you the stick will be welcoming you back to the village by saying “stick for me?” It probably wouldn’t fit in your luggage anyway.


there are a lot of rules when visiting Pacaya.

There are a lot of rules to know about when visiting Pacaya!

A diorama of the volcano and our path up to the top.  

I was laughing while sliding backwards down the slope trying to pose for this one!

look! that's real lava glowing under there!!

Look! That’s real lava glowing in there! It was very interesting to see the folds of the surface of the cooled lava flows.

one place I decided it would not be safe to step...

One spot I tapped with my walking stick and decided not to step.

This guy in our group was close enough to the river of lava to set his walking stick on fire – it was incredible!

Our guide brought a bag of marshmallows to the top and handed them out so that people could roast them over the lava.


Science While You Were Sleeping

Science doesn’t sleep. Here’s what happened while you were snoozing.

Feel like the Eye of Sauron is focused on you this Monday morning? Nostalgic about that climactic scene in Lord of the Rings? Check out these spectacular photos from the USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, of the recent Kilauea eruption.

If you’re looking for life on Mars, forget water – try cellulose. Here’s a hint: it looks like this.

Go, kakapo, go! Five of these rare, flightless and owl-like parrots were born in southern New Zealand – bringing the total number to 91.

Wait, you thought Harry Potter was fictional? Silly muggle. Tell that to the Ivy League participants in the U.S.’s first intercollegiate Quidditch game.

 Did you turn off the lights for Earth Hour? Millions of people across the world – and many major landmarks – did. Check out video of the lights going out here.

Pachycephalosaurs are some of the weirdest-looking dinosaurs out there – and their oddness has long left scientists puzzled about their behavior. Huge domed foreheads look like they’d be great for courtship combat – but spindly little necks look like they’d break way too easily. Enter computer technology from the University of Alberta – and the mystery may be solved.