KAVACHI, an active underwater volcano, is starting to erupt once again, NASA has warned.
Satellite imagery shows Kavachi is starting to erupt againCredit: NASA
Scientists are unsure how the sharks survive in the hot, acidic conditionsCredit: nat geo
Scientists believe the sharks have mutated in order to surviveCredit: nat geo
Kavachi is located in the south west Pacific Ocean in the Soloman IslandsCredit: NASA
Kavachi was formed by plate tectonics, according to Kadie Bennis, a volcano data researcher at the Smithsonian Institution’s Global Volvanism Program (GVP)
“There is a whole bunch of different plates across the world that are moving on the mantle… when you have two plates that are coming together at certain boundaries, and one of them starts to subduct, for example, you could get a volcano popping up on one of those plates,” Bennis said. “And so that’s what’s happening at Kavachi.”
Bennis is part of a team tracking volcanic activity using data from global volcano observatories as well as using NASA’s Earth Observatory and other spacecraft.
Recent satellite images of the Kavachi Volcano show it to be active and erupting.
An image captured by NASA and the US Geological Survey satellite Landsat was taken on May 19 and shared by NASA’s Earth Observatory.
In 2015, a team of National Geographic researchers explored the volcano and discovered marine life living with the active crater, including both silky sharks and hammerheads.
Marine life living actively around underwater volcanoes is not that unusual, said Bennis.
It is though harder to observe the sharks in person due to the volcano being submerged.
How the sharks survive in such acidic conditions, has baffled scientists.
At the time of the investigation, ocean engineer Brennan Phillips said: “When it’s erupting, there’s no way anything could live in there.
“That’s what makes discovering these animals down inside the volcano so perplexing.
“They’re living in a place where they could ‘die at any moment,’ so how do they survive?”
“It’s very turbid, so the water is very cloudy. None of these things are good for fish,” added Phillips.
Scientists believe the sharks must have mutated to survive in the hot and acidic environment.
And the discovery raises further questions about what other changes they’ve undergone.
Phillips asked: “Do they leave? Do they have some sort of sign that it’s about to erupt? Do they blow up sky-high in little bits?”
Kavachi is more accessible because it lies in relatively shallow water, around 20 meters below the surface.
“We see it all the time, where even just on the surface, there are people in cities built around volcanoes, or there’s this volcanic mouse species that like to live around other sorts of volcanoes in different parts of the world,” Bennis said. “So it’s completely normal for there to be sharks and other marine life around underwater volcanoes since it’s also just contributing to the ecosystem that way.”
FIRST RECORDED ERUPTION IN 1939
While the GVP has data on volcanoes stretching back 12,000 years, the first recorded eruption of Kavachi was in 1939.
“There were just people out boating, having a good time, and they noticed that there was just this formation of an island in the middle of the ocean,” Bennis said of the 1939 encounter. “And they’re like, ‘Whoa, this is kind of weird.’ And so that is our first documented evidence of that volcanic activity.”
Since then, Kavachi has had 36 eruptive periods.
Satellite data from Landsat-9 and other spacecraft have made monitoring underwater volcanic activity easier, Bennis said.
Underwater volcanoes have the same characteristics as above-ground volcanoes, including eruptions.
Bennis said Kavachi generally hasn’t caused hazards to people boating in the area because they know to stay away from the volcano.
Sometimes underwater volcanoes can produced pumice rafts, which can indicate volcanic activity happening below the sea.
“Pretty much just rock fragments that have exploded out of the volcano. And they’re just like hanging out and floating on the water,” Bennis said. “Sometimes that can be dangerous for boats because you don’t want to get bits of rock stuck in your rudder or anything, but that’s pretty much the only hazard that we have to worry about at this specific volcano.”
The last time there were significant eruptions was in 2014.
According to NASA, nearby island residents could see visible steam and ash.
Kavachi’s most recent eruption period started in October 2021 and it has been intermittent since then.
Bennis said the GVP studies satellite images for new activity, such as the plume spotted by Landsat-9 earlier this month.
Those observations though are dependent on there being a clear sky.
“Is the weather nice enough where we can look at the satellite data, not just see a cloudy day, but we can actually get a good view of the location of where the volcano event is,” Bennis said. “Right now, it’s mostly just been doing a lot of discolouring the water. So there’s a lot of just coloured plumes that are around it.”
Volcanoes can be unpredictable though, including when they will erupt and how long it will last.
The eruptions were detected on May 19 this yearCredit: NASA
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