Tuesday, June 29, 1999

By Craig T. Kojima, Star-Bulletin
Dr. Peter Herring displays a black dragonfish,
a deep-sea fish found at a depth of about 1,000 meters.
Scientists believe it might use its luminous cheek patches
to communicate.

Undersea volcanoes
yield oddities

Findings include a new type
of volcanism and big-eyed creatures

By Helen Altonn


Eight boxes of rocks scientists say represent a new type of volcanism on Earth fill Yucheng Pan's University of Hawaii office.

The 80- to 90-million-year-old rocks were collected from the Musician Seamounts, about 500 miles north of Hawaii, and from submerged volcanoes near Easter Island.

Pan, a graduate student in geology, was among 22 scientists from 12 institutions and seven nations on a two-month cruise of the German research vessel SONNE from Manila to Honolulu.

The scientists reported some spectacular findings yesterday, displaying ancient volcanic rocks and strange-looking creatures with big eyes collected from the deep sea.

Using a sophisticated side-beam sonar system covering a 10-mile swath of the ocean bottom, the geophysicists and geologists made the first detailed maps of the Musician Seamounts.

Besides seamounts, the Musician chain has a new class of volcano discovered only recently, the scientists said. The chain has elongated ridges two miles high, five miles across and up to 300 miles long.

"You see some things like this on Venus and the moon," said Jason Morgan, with the GEOMAR Research Center for Marine Geosciences at Kiel University. But until recently, he said, "People thought such features were unique to other planets."

Pan, who works with professor Rodey Batiza in the UH Department of Geology and Geophysics, said he believes the Musician Seamounts were formed at a hot spot in Earth's mantle. But he thinks the ridges are the result of impact between the hot spot and mid-ocean spreading center.

Ernst Flueh, chief scientist for the cruise, said the new type of volcano has been found in about 10 sites around the world. One of the big questions is whether the ridges were formed from a single eruption or a mixing of material from Earth's plate motions, he said.

Seismic studies by the SONNE indicate much of the magma erupted at the surface and only a small fraction was deposited in the deeper crust, he said.

Morgan speculated that the magma oozed from from a feeder dike, or giant crack, and spread out on the surface, and the volcano was built by flows one on top of each other.

His father, geophysicist Jason Morgan of Princeton University, said seismic experiments and the aging of the rocks will help them determine the structure of the volcanoes.

The biologists also have some mysteries to unravel, particularly why many animals in the deep, dark sea have large eyes, said Peter Herring, marine biologist at the Southhampton Oceanographic Center in England.

"It's paradoxical."

They also see and communicate by making their own light (bioluminescence) from pigments along their bodies, he said.

"We have a whole bunch of new species to compare with Atlantic ones," Herring said. "Some we've never seen before."

The biologists used special equipment to maintain dark, cold conditions for the animals when they brought them up from the sea, and took the creatures into a dark room for study.

Besides big eyes, the fish have very big teeth, Herring pointed out, explaining that because they don't get a meal often they must not miss one.

More UH scientists will be doing research on the SONNE in the future, he said. One of the world's most advanced research ships, it is supported by the German Ministry for Education, Research and Technology.

E-mail to City Desk

Text Site Directory:
[News] [Business] [Features] [Sports] [Editorial] [Do It Electric!]
[Classified Ads] [Search] [Subscribe] [Info] [Letter to Editor]
[Stylebook] [Feedback]

© 1999 Honolulu Star-Bulletin