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Tamu Massif, The Largest Volcano on Earth

Tamu Massif, The Largest Volcano on Earth
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Scientists have started to get into the details of what is known to be one of the most mysterious and the largest of all volcanoes on earth- Tamu Massif that lies deep inside the Pacific Ocean on the Shatsky oceanic plateau, 1600 kilometers to the south-east of Japan.

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It was believed that it was not just a single volcano but a combination of three separate volcanoes that makes it so huge. But it has been discovered that it is one single volcano that is 50 times bigger than Mauna Loa volcano in Hawaii, the previously known largest volcano.

Tamu Massif, world's largest volcano beneath the Pacific

Tamu Massif, world’s largest volcano beneath the Pacific [Pic: slate.com]

Having spent 36 days on board R/V Falkor, an oceanographic research vessel in the Pacific, a team of scientists, led by geologist William Sager from University of Houston, has come up with the data to construct a 3D map of the entire volcano that can be studied further closely to unlock the mysteries it has so far posed towards them.

Tamu is the first letters of Texas A&M University, where studies were first carried out and Massif means massive in French

The reason for the formation of such a huge volcano has remained unanswered.  The new studies and data collected would help the scientists resolve the riddle, says Sager. Tamu Massif is also one among the largest volcanoes in the solar system, which is considered almost equivalent to the largest volcano in Mars, Olympus Mons.

It has been found that the volcano was formed nearly 145 million years ago after the late Jurassic period and since then it has been lying there unnoticed. Covering an area of 260,000 square kilometers, it is equivalent to the size New Mexico State in the United States or that of Ireland and Britain combined together, whereas the area of Mauna Loa in Hawaii covers only 5000 square kilometers. The top portion of the volcano lies nearly 1980 meters below the sea level and its base lies 6.4 kilometers deep making the volcano stand tall at 4.46 kilometers, despite being buried in the ocean.

Olympus Mons, the largest volcano of the solar system compared with Mt. Everest

Olympus Mons, the largest volcano of the solar system compared with Mt. Everest [news.com.au]

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The team has mapped an area of several million kilometers using sonar and magnetometers to a greater precision that will help them study the giant volcano and its origin. Their equipments were much damaged by the sharks in the ocean says Sager, which tells us the difficulty the team has endured in conducting this study for more than a month.

Other volcanoes beneath the ocean are smaller in size and they are steep whereas Tamu Massif is very much broad to the extent that you may not be able to tell which way it is sloping down, when you stand on its surface. Such a volcano is called as a shield volcano. The broad shape of the volcano says that the molten lava erupted from the oceanic plateaus in enormous amounts and moved out over the vast areas in the ocean, which eventually was cooled down by water and then solidified.

Tamu Massif is 80% as large as Olympus Mons of Mars, the largest volcano in the solar system

There are two beliefs about Tamu Massif that are contradictory to each other. The geological community suggests that the eruption during the formation of the volcano was catastrophic. On the other hand, Sager says that the volcano was formed gradually over a short period of geological time from one to several millions of years. For the eruption to be catastrophic, the eruption must have happened quickly in some days or weeks, but not over millions of years.

3D map of Tamu Massif

3D map of Tamu Massif [Pic: Schmidt Oceanic Institute]

Scientists also believe that this eruption was one among the many that happened when continents were breaking apart across the planet. Thus, another mystery about Tamu Massif is that the other eruptions from the oceanic plateaus that happened during the same time are not to be seen anywhere, but only Tamu Massif.

Another significance about the volcano is its position where three tectonic plates meet underwater. Earlier it was believed that the eruption came out from the three ridges where the plates meet but later found that there was lava that erupted from the earth’s core through the mantle. Sager adds that if you look below the ridge in the mid-ocean, you will find magma. If so, how is it possible for a separate volcanic eruption at the same spot?

Thus, the newly gathered data from R/V Falkor will help researchers find answers for most of the questions about Tamu Massif. The study will help them understand the earth better for better reasons.

Related Video: Return to Tamu Massif

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