Two of the scientists behind the Nature Communications study, Samuel Pegler and David Ferguson of the University of Leeds, used “direct observations and mathematical computations to navigate around the fact that there’s such an absence of data.”
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The duo studied the Northeast Pacific’s Northern Escanaba’s lava flow from 2009 to understand how an underwater volcano like the NESCA works. The NESCA volcano vent “heats up seawater into violent torrents that can whisk volcanic rock particles called ‘tephra’ up to three miles away from the eruption site,” according to Syfy. Pegler and Ferguson used this data to create a simulation to estimate the magnitude of this underwater volcano.
Based on this simulation, the two learned that an underwater volcanic eruption has a high enough magnitude of power to power the U.S.
“Our results constrain the rate of energy release (or power) and show that during the eruption, the power output is sufficient to run the U.S. for that period of time, probably on the order of hours/days (however long it lasts — we don’t know precisely),” Ferguson told Vice when asked about the study.He also told the publication that “there is effectively zero chance of capturing the energy for all sorts of reasons,” including the fact that nobody knows when or where these underwater eruptions will take place, not to mention actually gaining access to the volcano’s eruption. Ferguson says the point of this simulation and their findings is to “illustrate how powerful/energetic these things are.”
Beyond the sheer power of these underwater volcanoes, the duo also used their study to learn more about how “deep sea hydrothermal systems” might be candidates for the origin of life on Earth, Ferguson said. He said “extremophile” deep ocean life is sustained by the energy and chemicals supplied by magmatic and volcanic activity associated with underwater volcanoes.
“The most likely mechanism that these thermophilic (heat-loving) microbes are dispersed to other sites is in megaplumes,” Ferguson said. “Our results suggest that this process is likely to be mediated by volcanic activity. There is also the interesting conjecture that many biologists consider deep sea hydrothermal systems as good candidates for the origin of life on Earth.”
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Not only are underwater volcanoes powerful enough to power the entire U.S., but they might also be the original site for the beginning of life on Earth.
For more about volcanoes, check out this story about a planet discovered by scientists that’s basically Darth Vader’s lava homeworld, Mustafar, and then read IGN’s list of the greatest movie volcanoes. Check out this story about the discovery of water on the surface of the Moon after that and then ponder if the Moon is hiding some underwater volcanoes — “underwater moon volcanoes” has a nice ring to it, after all.
Image Credit: AFP/Getty Images
Wesley LeBlanc is a freelance news writer, guide maker, and science guru for IGN. You can follow him on Twitter @LeBlancWes.