Tamu Massif: Biggest Volcano on Earth-Underwater

September 20, 2013


3D map of the Tamu Massif formation

On September 5th a team of scientists led by Dr. William Sager announced the discovery of the biggest volcano on Earth. Tamu Massif, as they named it, dwarfs the Mauna Loa, rivals the Olympus Mons, and it represents enormous learning possibilities about our planet.

A new volcano that has been compared to the size of New Mexico was discovered in the Pacific and confirmed on September 5th. The team of scientists was led by Dr. William Sager, a professor at the University of Houston who named the volcano: Tamu Massif, after Texas A&M University where Sager previously taught, and Massif which means “massive” in French.

The volcano is located in the northwest Pacific, in a region known as the Shatsky Rise. The Shatksy Rise is about 1,000 miles east of Japan and it is the meeting place of three tectonic plates: the Farallon, the Pacific and the Izanagi. Sager and his team published the discovery in the journal Nature Geoscience. He explained in an article from Sci-News.com that at first they believed the volcano to be three separate mounds since it was so big. However, they did conclude it was one huge volcano, as published in the report from Nature Geoscience, “We show that the Tamu Massif is a single, immense volcano, constructed from massive lava flows that emanated from the volcano centre to form a broad, shield-like shape.”

This volcano is truly big, definitely the biggest on earth, taking from its place former largest volcano, Mauna Loa. Mauna Loa, or “Long Mountain” in Hawaiian is an active volcano that last erupted in 1984. Tamu Massif is 100,000 sq mi, whereas Mauna Loa is only 1,900 sq mi. To Truly understand the magnitude of this discovery, Sager is quoted as saying in Sci-News, “it rivals in size some of the largest volcanoes in the solar system, such as Olympus Mons on Mars.”

Tamu Massif, unlike Mauna Loa, is an extinct submarine volcano. It formed about 145 million years ago and then became inactive a few million years later. Although it is extremely wide, this new volcano (or old volcano, rather) is not very high. In comparison to Mauna Loa which has an elevation of 13,679, Tamu Massif only rises 13,000 ft above the ocean, but is much much wider. The Olympus Mons is about fourteen miles high!

This impressive discovery means a lot and contributes greatly to our increasing knowledge about our planet Earth. As Sager has explained this volcano is very unusual in shape, with an immense amount of magma that came from the center; which as he said, had to have come from the Earth’s mantle. Understanding this process can give geologists important information about the Earth’s interior and how it works.

Photo credit: Sci-News.com/IODP

-Ivanha Paz