Volcano quest is online
Scientists present their ongoing findings updated on the Web
Islanders are invited to join an online expedition of the University of Hawaii research vessel Kilo Moana as scientists explore the underwater lava flows of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.
The 28-day cruise began Sept. 9 and will continue through Oct. 7. The public can follow the voyage through daily updates on the UH School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology Web page: www.soest.hawaii.edu/expeditions/Kauai.
In the first five days, the ship mapped a large area previously unknown around Kaula Island, southwest of Niihau, said Michael Garcia, one of the principal investigators, in an e-mail.
"In short, we found tons of volcanoes and lava flows," said the UH geology-geophysics professor. "It is amazing."
The Kilo Moana is equipped with Jason 2, a sophisticated robotics vehicle operated by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Tethered to the ship by fiber-optic cable, the remotely operated vehicle can work at depths of more than 7,000 feet.
Garcia was one of the chief investigators for an expedition in 2002 using Jason 2 to study Mauna Loa's undersea southwest rift zone. Nine new volcanoes were discovered on the flanks of Mauna Loa.
The Kilo Moana is doing a huge public school outreach program on Kauai during the current cruise, Garcia said. Kauai teacher Linda Sciaroni also is writing dispatches from the ship for a "teacher at sea log" on the Web page.
She presented two maps of lava fields northwest of Niihau and Kaula in her Wednesday report. "Notice the numerous pancake-shaped volcanoes scattered about," she said.
"The wide areas of black mean that the eruptions here are much younger than Niihau, Kaula or Kauai ... Nobody ever would have dreamed there were so many volcanoes like this around these relatively small islands."
An international team led by UH researchers is using multibeam sonar and acoustic imagery to map the sea floor, as well as Jason 2 to sample lava to determine their ages, petrology and geochemistry.
"It is expected the expedition will reveal new secrets about the rejuvenation stage of volcanism that formed such features as Diamond Head," said a UH announcement of the expedition.
Daily updates are being posted online about life on the vessel, its high-tech equipment, the region's geologic background and discoveries.
"Hawaiian volcanism is understood on land but what, when and how lava erupted in the ocean depths surrounding the islands is a mystery," the researchers wrote in a "science overview" for the expedition.
A prime target is a topographic bulge extending south from Kauai, they said. It's broader than Kauai and "covered with many tens of volcanic mounds and pinnacles" roughly the size of Diamond Head crater, they described.
"There are hints that these features continue to punctuate the sea floor south of Niihau and around the west and north side of Kaula.
"Scientists know these volcanic features are no longer active but they do not know whether they formed during the main (shield) phase of volcanism on the islands or whether they formed more recently, in a manner similar to Diamond Head."
Scientists said they will analyze the rocks "to determine when they erupted, how hot they were, what they are composed of and with what stage of Hawaiian volcanism they best fit."