Guest Post by Willis Eschenbach
The Solomon Islands, where I lived for eight years, is just north of Australia and just south of the Equator. It is part of the “Ring Of Fire”, the area of strong earthquake and volcanic activity that encircles the Pacific. You can see below that the islands are on a plateau, with a clearly visible earthquake fault just south of (below) the island group. This fault is actually the line where the Indo-Pacific plate (lower left) dives under the Pacific plate (upper right), and has been diving there since forever. As a result it is the location of an unending string of earthquakes, tsunami, and vulcanism. You can also see another fault that starts just above the lower left corner and comes up to the right.
And along the main fault, in the location shown by the red circle, is an underwater volcano named Kavachi. There is excellent information about the volcano at the Smithsonian Global Volcano Program, including a photo gallery, an eruptive history, and the following geological description:
Kavachi, one of the most active submarine volcanoes in the SW Pacific, occupies an isolated position in the Solomon Islands far from major aircraft and shipping lanes. Sometimes referred to as Rejo te Kvachi (“Kavachi’s Oven”), it is located south of Vangunu Island only about 30 km N of the site of subduction of the Indo-Australian plate beneath the Pacific plate. The shallow submarine basaltic-to-andesitic volcano has produced ephemeral islands up to 1 km long many times since its first recorded eruption during 1939. Residents of the nearby islands of Vanguna and Nggatokae (Gatokae) reported “fire on the water” prior to 1939, a possible reference to earlier submarine eruptions. The roughly conical edifice rises from water depths of 1.1-1.2 km on the north and greater depths to the south. Frequent shallow submarine and occasional subaerial eruptions produce phreatomagmatic explosions that eject steam, ash, and incandescent bombs above the sea surface. On a number of occasions lava flows were observed on the surface of ephemeral islands.
So it has been sitting under there, smoking and muttering and bubbling and putting out ash and steam and gas for about a century and likely much more. And it has continued right up to near the present, viz:
Most Recent Weekly Report: 29 January-4 February 2014
According to NASA’s Earth Observatory, a satellite image acquired on 29 January showed a plume of discolored water E of Kavachi, likely from lava fragments and dissolved gases. A bright area above the submerged peak suggested churning water. There was no sign that the volcano had breached the sea surface.
Why is Kavachi of interest in the climate discussion? Well, the National Geographic was interested in what was going on inside the underwater volcanic crater, so they organized an expedition with the usual underwater camerafolk and scientists and the like. As they had expected, the water inside the crater turned out to be a) hot, and b) acidic. Not phony “acidification” like the alarmists are all up in arms about, which is really partial neutralization of the normally alkaline sea water. And as they might not have expected, the water in the crater was acidic enough that it was burning the skin of the divers, so they couldn’t actually enter the crater. The expedition leader said:
“Divers who have gotten close to the outer edge of the volcano have had to back away because of how hot it is or because they were getting mild skin burns from the acid water.”
This makes sense, because the volcano puts out large amounts of sulfur and CO2, and when lots of either sulfur or CO2 hits water you tend to get lots of sulfuric acid and carbonic acid. The NatGeo article says:
Despite the fact that Kavachi was not actively erupting, the video shows carbon dioxide and methane gas bubbles rising from the seafloor vents, and the water appearing in different colors due to reduced iron and sulfur.
So we have hot acidic water loaded with carbon dioxide, iron, methane, and sulfur … sounds like a recipe for a barren landscape, although perhaps a fascinating one. I can see why NatGeo was interested.
And even though the divers couldn’t go inside to get a look, they still wanted to find out just how few creatures were living in that extreme environment.
Well, this being 2015, the scientists pulled out their nifty robot camera and dropped it into the hot, acidic ash plume filled waters of the volcanic crater … and when the camera popped back to the surface after its allotted hour, to their immense surprise they found an entire ecosystem going full bore inside the crater, with fish, both silky and hammerhead sharks, and other usual undersea suspects.
As the expedition leader says, this brings up an interesting question:
“These large animals are living in what you have to assume is much hotter and much more acidic water, and they’re just hanging out,” Phillips says. “It makes you question what type of extreme environment these animals are adapted to. What sort of changes have they undergone? Are there only certain animals that can withstand it? It is so black and white when you see a human being not able to get anywhere near where these sharks are able to go.”
My conclusion? I gotta say, when I see life going on at a rate of knots in hot ocean water that is not just slightly less alkaline but instead is actually acidic, it merely reinforces my belief that the slight neutralization that will likely come with increasing CO2 will have little measurable effect on the ocean. Life is amazingly adaptive, and the amount of pH change predicted from CO2 is quite small. Given this discovery that fish and sharks can hunt and feed in hot, CO2 laden, acidic seawater, water humans can’t even enter, it’s just more evidence that the ocean life likely won’t have much trouble dealing with such a small change in its current level of alkalinity.
Regards to all,
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