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Robots explore underwater volcano

By David, 20 March 2015

A piece of pumice covered in spnges and molluscs.

Image: Rebecca Carey has found pumice rock from the underwater volcano washed onto Tasmania’s shores.
Credit: Rebecca Carey

Written by Beth Askham

When mysterious lumps of pumice stone washed up on beaches in Tasmania, Australia, Rebecca Carey knew that they must be coming from an underwater volcano.

Rebecca is a Tasmanian volcanologist (someone who studies volcanos), and she had been tracking the travelling pumice for more than a year. She knew these large chunks of floating solidified magma were coming from a huge underwater volcanic eruption around 1000 kilometres north of Auckland.

The eruption was first noticed by a plane passenger who saw large rafts of pumice floating on the water.

Rebecca is now travelling to the volcano that produced the pumice, aboard US ship Roger Revelle, to find out more about its eruption. Researchers are keen to take a closer look as we know little about deep underwater volcanic magma eruptions.

“We are interested in how those pumice particles are transported once they leave the vent,” says Rebecca.

Rebecca says the team will use two robots to find out more about the Havre volcanic eruption. One is an autonomous underwater vehicle, called Sentry. The other is a remotely operated vehicle, called Jason.

Sentry is equipped with sonar, cameras, and chemical and magnetic sensors. It will float around, mapping the site and keeping itself out of trouble.

Jason will allow scientists on the ship to access the seafloor remotely. Scientists will pilot Jason down to the ocean bed to collect samples of rock, sediment and marine life.

While the scientists are learning about volcanos, they want you to follow the exploration, and ask questions along the way.

“We have a website which will report our activities and findings in real time, by posting photos of everyday life on the ship and videos of the footage the robots recover.” says Rebecca. “School children are encouraged to follow our voyage online and they will be able to ask the scientists questions.”

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