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Video Captures Underwater 'Brimstone and Fire'

For two years now, a team of scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have been doing what no one else has ever done: watching an underwater volcano up close. Called NW Rota-1, the volcano is in the northern Pacific Ocean, near the Mariana Islands. It's not too far from a gigantic undersea trench where one continent-sized piece of the Earth's crust is grinding underneath another.

In 2004, the team discovered the volcano by tracking a large, yellowish plume in the water back to its source. They returned last month, in time to witness a full eruption.

The robotic vehicles were closer than anyone has ever been to an active volcano. The seawater dampens the heat and the gas and rock explosions, allowing the vehicles to survive the eruption.

"I never thought I'd ever be able to get that close to seeing something like this," said NOAA geologist Robert Embley. "Truthfully, we were actually awed. You could actually go right up to the rim and put your water sampler right into it and sample the fluid, that's what so amazing about it."

Early findings from the expedition are published in the current issue of the journal Nature.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Christopher Joyce
Christopher Joyce is a correspondent on the science desk at NPR. His stories can be heard on all of NPR's news programs, including NPR's Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition.