This image shows an eruption from the West Mata underwater volcano near Samoa, taken in 2009 by a robot at a depth of 1.2 kilometers (4000 feet). It was the deepest volcanic explosion ever recorded. Because the water pressure is so high at that depth, the violence of the eruption was significantly suppressed. The robot was able to get within feet of the eruption and film the entire sequence in detail and collect samples.
Scientists have discovered that the volcano is producing rare boninite lavas, which previously had only been seen with extinct volcanoes more than one million years old. Boninite is a mafic rock with high levels of silica and magnesium, filled with crystals of pyroxene and olivine. It is usually associated with the early formation of subduction zones. Researchers also found evidence of large amounts of CO2, water and sulfur in the eruption, further indicating this area is likely experiencing early stages of subduction.
West Mata is one of the most active underwater volcanoes. It is about 6 km wide and sits more than 3 km under the ocean. It is found on the Tonga Ridge about 200 km (120 mi) southwest of the Samoan Islands, where the Tonga Trench turns westward.
Now we have evidence that fire can exist under the ocean. Maybe children’s cartoons are not as far-fetched as we think. As a side note, Stephen Hillenburg, the creator of SpongeBob SquarePants, is a marine biologist. If you would like to see more of the eruption, visit this link to see a video and additional photos:
Photo of West Mata eruption, December, 2009, credit NOAA