Undersea volcano spawns 'moat of death' below Eel City
18 April 2006
A major research project involving scientists from around the world including Dr Adele Pile from the University of Sydney has discovered flame red worms living in a toxic “moat of death” around an active volcano in the Samoan archipelago.
With an acidic pH of 3 (similar to vinegar), carbon dioxide bubbling up “like champagne” and extremely hot venting water, the water is so toxic “any life swimming into this pit immediately dies, except these amazing scavenging worms”, says one of the project’s four lead scientists, Dr Adele Pile, Senior Lecturer in Marine Science at the School of Biological Sciences.
A large population of purple and blue eels lives near the summit of the volatile volcano, using the nooks and crevices around hydrothermal vents to ambush shrimp delivered by the volcanic currents, Dr Pile says. The researchers named these communities "Eel City”.
The red bristle worms live underneath the ‘safe zone’ inhabited by the eels, swimming and crawling amongst a carpet of dead bodies as they feed on bacteria sloughing off the carcasses in the toxic water, Dr Pile says.
In two expeditions in 2005, Adele Pile and her colleagues used submersibles and other technology to venture into, map, and take samples from the Vailulu’u Seamount, an active volcano lying off the coast of the Samoan archipelago.
Since the volcano was mapped five years ago, a 300 meter tall cone has resurged from the crater, forming a summit the authors dubbed Nafanua, after the Samoan goddess of war.
In an article to be published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America on 25 April 2006, the scientists say this rate of growth could see Nafanua, currently 700m below sea level, pierce the surface within 40 or 50 years.
“Vailulu’u Seamount, Samoa: Life and Death on an Active Submarine Volcano” by Hubert Staudigel, Stanley R. Hart, Adele Pile, Bradley E. Bailey, Edward T. Baker, Sandra Brooke, Douglas P. Connelly, Lisa Haucke, Christopher R. German, Ian Hudson, Daniel Jones, Anthony A. P. Koppers, Jasper Konter, Ray Lee, Theodore W. Pietsch, Bradley M. Tebo, Alexis S. Templeton, Robert Zierenberg, Craig M. Young, will be published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America on 25 April 2006.
ARTICLE# 06-00830 volume 103(17) pages 6448-6453.
A video of the eel city and worms in the moat of death, as well as still pictures, are available upon request.
Contact: Christine Fogg
Phone: 02 9351 2261 or 0423 782 603