A team of scientists recently on an expedition to the Kavachi volcano, an active shallow submarine or underwater volcano in South Pacific, near the Solomon Islands, made an astounding discovery of life in the crater of the active volcano.
The team, led by Brennan Phillips, a biological oceanographer at the University of Rhode Island, recorded a video showing a surprising variety of large marine species, including at least two species of sharks, swimming at a depth of nearly 150ft (45 meters) in the hot and highly acidic water of the volcanic crater – a bizarre observation that has elicited fitting comparison with the 2013 film Sharknado.
According to experts, volcanoes such as Kavachi could release volcanic material with temperatures as high as 800 degrees Fahrenheit.
The video showed scalloped hammerheads and silky sharks, snapper fish, sixgill stingrays, jellyfish and other species swimming contentedly in the sizzling hot water with acidity comparable to vinegar.
Philips told National Geographic, “These large animals are living in what you have to assume is much hotter and much more acidic water. It makes you question what type of extreme environment these animals are adapted to. What sort of changes have they undergone? Are there only certain animals that can withstand it?”
According to Phillips, the discovery is astounding because the “idea of there being large animals like sharks hanging out and living inside the caldera of the volcano conflicts with what we know about Kavachi, which is that it erupts.”
The discovery raises challenging questions for marine biologists. What on earth are sharks doing in such harsh and unfriendly marine environment? What would these animals do if the volcano threatens to erupt, or actually erupts?
“When it’s erupting, there’s no way anything could live in there. And so to see large animals like this that are living and potentially they could die at any moment, it brings up lots of questions.
“It would be very interesting to pair observations of animal activity, such as the sharks, with actual eruptions of the main peak. Do they get an early warning and escape the caldera before it gets explosive, or do they get trapped and perish in steam and lava?”
Kavachi – also known as Rejo te Kavachi or Kavachi’s Oven – is a very active volcano that has erupted more than ten times since the 1970s. The eruptions generate considerable energy, throwing up greenhouse gases that could add to global warming and also aerosol gases that could cause global cooling.
The first reported eruption of the volcano was in 1939. Eruptions in 1976 and 1991 were powerful enough to throw up new islands. The volcano also erupted in 2004 and finally in January 2014, according to evidence obtained from NASA satellites.
The scientists visiting the inhospitable environment had deployed an underwater robot and camera into the greenish-orange ash laden water for a peep at what was going on below the surface. They had approached the volcano with some trepidation because it is an active volcano with frequent surges in activity, according to Phillips.
“Absolutely, we were scared. But one of the ways you can tell that Kavachi is erupting is that you can actually hear it—both on the surface and underwater. Anywhere within 10 miles even, you can hear it rumbling in your ears and in your body.”
“Divers who have gotten close to the outer edge of the volcano have had to back away because of how hot it is or because they were getting mild skin burns from the acid water.”
The purpose of the expedition had been only to map the volcano’s peak and to gather detailed data about hydrothermal activity and geology of the crater. They had not expected that the water would be devoid of life but they had also not expected to find sharks and other large marine species hanging out in hot acidic water.
They watched the video in astonishment as several species of marine life, including jellyfish and snappers, appeared. The group reportedly gasped in amazement and then cheered when a hammerhead appeared, and finally a stingray.
[Images: YouTube/National Geographic; Wikimedia Commons]