New basalt type discovered beneath the ocean


Research News


A new type of rock created during large and exceptionally hot volcanic eruptions has been discovered beneath the Pacific Ocean.

An international team of researchers including the University of Leeds unearthed the previously unknown form of basalt after drilling through the Pacific ocean floor.

The discovery suggests that ocean floor eruptions sourced in the Earth’s mantle were even hotter and more voluminous than previously thought. Report co-author is Dr Ivan Savov, of Leeds’ Institute of Geophysics and Tectonics, in the university’s School of Earth and Environment.

He said: “In an era when we rightly admire discoveries made through space exploration, our findings show there are still many discoveries still to make on our own planet.

“The rocks that we recovered are distinctly different to rocks of this type that we already know about. In fact, they may be as different to Earth’s known ocean floor basalts as Earth’s basalts are to the Moon’s basalts.

“Now that we know where and how this rock type is formed, we anticipate that many other rocks that we know were originally formed by ocean floor eruptions will be re-examined and potentially alter our wider understanding of the basalt formation.”

The newly-discovered basalt is distinct from known rocks in both its chemical and mineral makeup.

Its existence was previously not known because no new examples have been formed in millions of years. As a result, the new basalt type lay buried deep beneath sediment at the bottom of the ocean.

To find the new rock, the research team, aboard the Research Vessel (RV) JOIDES “Resolution”, sank their drilling equipment 6km down to the ocean floor of the Amami Sankaku Basin – about 1,000km southwest of Japan’s Mount Fuji volcano.

They then drilled a further 1.5km into the ocean floor, extracting samples that had never before been examined by scientists.

The research area was part of the birth of the “Ring of Fire” – a horseshoe-shaped belt known for regular volcanic eruptions and earthquakes. It stretches about 40,000 km around the Pacific, and is thought to have begun forming at least 50 million years ago.

Dr Savov explained: “This was one of the deepest waters ever to be considered for drilling, using a research vessel specifically designed for such challenging deep sea environments.

“Basalt is among the most common type of rock on earth. We were looking for basalt that was formed during early Ring of Fire volcanic eruptions.”.

The eruptions that created the newly-discovered basalt were very widespread (covering areas the size of western Europe) and occurred in a relatively short geological timescale of between 1-2 million years.


The research team’s findings have been published in Nature Communications. The team included scientists from Australia, Japan, USA, Germany, UK, China, and Switzerland.

Further information

Basalt derived from highly refractory mantle sources during early Izu-Bonin-Mariana arc development is published by Nature Communications. DOI: 10.1038/s41467-021-21980-0

The research was part of the International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP).

Dr Savov was funded by the Natural Environment Research Council.

The research team also included: Center of Deep Sea Research, Institute of Oceanology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Qingdao, China; Laboratory for Marine Mineral Resources, Qingdao National Laboratory for Marine Science and Technology, Qingdao, China; Center for Ocean Mega-Science, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Qingdao, China; Research School of Earth Sciences, Australian National University, Canberra, Australia; Geological Survey of Japan/AIST, Tsukuba, Ibaraki, Japan; Department of Earth & Environment, AHC5-394, Florida International University, Miami, USA; Department of Earth & Ocean Sciences, University of South Carolina, Columbia, USA; Institute of Earth Sciences, University of Lausanne, Switzerland; School of Earth Sciences, University of Bristol, UK; GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel, Germany; College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences, Oregon State University, USA.

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March 23, 2021 2:36 am

Good to see that at least one branch of science is still honest enough to admit that they they don’t know everything…

Reply to  Alastair Brickell
March 23, 2021 4:35 am

Questions will rise, result of CC ?

Ron Long
March 23, 2021 3:05 am

Discovered basalt type in oceanic plate never seen before? What about the extensive obducted sea floor remnants, commonly called ophiolite, that are at the continental surface around the world? The Alps, HImalayas, and Klamath terrains are composed of these obducted oceanic crust rocks. That’s right, you can walk all over the sea crust that was overthrust onto the continental plate instead of pushed down a subduction zone and melted. Did these researchers conduct a review of the geologic literature searching for analogs to their “new basalt” in these ophiolite terrains?

Reply to  Ron Long
March 23, 2021 4:35 am

Here is the link to the Nature Communications paper, which has Ivan Savov as a co-author. I skimmed thru it quickly, and saw many references to subduction, but did not see any verbage about “new basalt type”.

He Li et al., “Basalt derived from highly refractory mantle sources during early Izu-Bonin-Mariana arc development”, [2021]

Perhaps this “new basalt” hype is merely spin added by Savov or the journalists who interviewed him.

Reply to  Johanus
March 23, 2021 5:34 am

It would be interesting to see the XRF data to see if this basalt is actually more similar to lunar rather than terrestrial basalts.

Reply to  David Middleton
March 23, 2021 7:06 am

The data used in the paper is available online, characterizing some of minerals by composition:

“Data availability The authors declare that the data supporting the findings of this study are available within its supplementary tables in a Source Data file deposited at m9.figshare.13353074.v2. Backarc clinopyroxene and spinel data for comparison are downloaded from Replicate analyses of trace elements of reference standard BCR-2G are compared to the GeoReM preferred values for each element, and recommended values are from Figure 1a is made with GeoMapApp ( Source data are provided with this paper.”

Edit: The links did not render properly, need to edit them a bit first.

Last edited 19 days ago by Johanus
Reply to  Johanus
March 23, 2021 5:47 am

The basalt is unique in a sense that the chemistry of the minerals composing it is unusual. It is indeed something that hadn’t been seen before. Beyond this, I agree that there are a lot of spinning and inexactitudes in the journalist’s paper.

Ron Long
Reply to  Agamemnon
March 23, 2021 10:46 am

Agamemnon, you don’t know if it hasn’t been seen before, until you examine all of the petrographic and petrochemical data from the obducted terrains. These obducted terrains are the same sea floor, or a close variant thereof, as they are claiming as “not seen before”. The same is the same.

Reply to  Ron Long
March 23, 2021 6:35 pm

Well, it is kind of a moot point here. Until someone comes up saying that it was reported in a previous publication and ignored by these authors, we will have to go with their claim.
it may indeed exist elsewhere in more accessible places such as obducted oceanic lithospheres but this still remains to be found.

Reply to  Johanus
March 23, 2021 9:49 am

If you spend that kind of money, you have to announce something dramatic … and not “we spent $50,000,000 and found … meh, nothing new.”

Reply to  Ron Long
March 23, 2021 6:39 am

Well, you have to give them something, don’t you? If it’s “new” and “never before”, then it’s exciting and has all sorts of possibilities – something like that. Life is too contracted and enclosed in this global pandemic thingy so they have to have something that makes them feel that THEY have discovered a new “thing”, even if they didn’t. I don’t begrudge that to anyone. And if this is a new basaltic rock type, fine. When sliced thin, it’s very pretty, maybe it could make some nice jewelry settings.

However, from a geology perspective, I would be more excited if the space program brought us some rocks from Mars, Mercury and Venus, just for comparison. I know that’s asking a lot, but mostly what we get now is iron-nickel meteors that blow off their shells and spook people and damage buildings.(Yes, I do still go look at those videos of the Chelyabinsk meteor and the damage it did.)

I mean, there are, after all, ocean-going fossils like ammonites found in the Himalayas, here and there….

Ron Long
Reply to  Sara
March 23, 2021 6:54 am

Sara, I agree with your comments about coping with the pandemic nonsense and meteors. However, basalt is not pretty. The photomicrograph is a thin slice under crossed polar, showing the variety of refractive indices in the various minerals. OK, some of the basalt from Hawaii is pretty, it has large crystals of gem quality peridot (olivine). in it..

Reply to  Sara
March 23, 2021 8:37 am

I have some “tumbled” pieces of basaltic granite, the kind that is speckled with bits of black and white. Very pretty, makes great paperweights, and costs nothing but a sharp eye to find. I also have a shrimp and an alethoptera (seeded fern) in iron concretions from the Carboniferous period. Rocks fascinate me: take forever to form and then they become jewelry or road-building materials.

Bill Rocks
Reply to  Sara
March 23, 2021 9:16 am


Just for the record, there is no such thing as basaltic granite. Regardless, your interest and curiosity about earth materials is shared.

Reply to  Bill Rocks
March 23, 2021 1:17 pm

Sorry, MY bad, basalt is denser than granite and I know it. Just a bad habit. I think granite is less easily fractured than basalt, too.

glen ferrier
Reply to  Sara
March 23, 2021 1:06 pm

That would make for some very expensive counter tops.

Peta of Newark
March 23, 2021 3:52 am

Quote 1:””ocean floor eruptions sourced in the Earth’s mantle were even hotter and more voluminous than previously thought“”

Quote 2:””previously unknown form of basalt“”

Opening premise/response:
Basalt is THE Perfect Plant Food
and plants control water
and water controls climate ##

Also it tells us that Earth is getting old – less voluminous means less plant food means less living plants means less dead plants means less soil-organic matter means less water retention means wonky weather.
Just Ask Australia – if nowhere else

As seen by simply looking at the oceans and large bodies of water
i.e. Places that are permanently soaking wet, water has a moderating effect.
It evens out the highs and lows, it reduces the extremity of the extremes.

Climate Change/Weirding/Warming/Crisis/Emergency is now solved, so, how do we now go about fixing people’s heads?

## Of course all these things I rave about point to Gaia
Ha ha you say, the guy who invented Gaia later retracted it.

Oh yeah. Did he really?
C’mon people, you KNOW what sort of hideous selfish mendacious and money grubbing world this is now become.
Can you not see a very real possibility that a gentle old man was ‘persuaded’ ‘cajoled’ ‘railroaded’ tricked’ ‘coerced’ ‘threatened’ somehow, by someone, to re-write his will or legacy – so as to make that someone rich?

So they could ‘write a book’, blow smoke, signal their virtue, take the limelight and, Make Money

OKaaay, why was that, why are the rats eating each other?
Why the money grubbing selfishness? Especially, why did the old guy lose his marbles and so become easy prey?

…because Basalt is Food for Us – ESPECIALLY Brain Food

Just one tiny dot-connecting exercise for ya
Vitamin B12 deficiency manifests exactly as Alzheimer’s does.
Even before we run out of Sodium, Potassium or Magnesium

B12 is made by bacteria that we must ingest, bacteria that come from soil/dirt, soil/dirt that absolutely needs/requires to be permanently damp and highly organic.
In fact, high-organic actually means high-bacteria – that’s what most of the organic actually is. A humongous mass of bacteria.

Thus, if you want just one cause, let alone the Amber Nectar, for the political climate social sexual and other crazy shenanigans that go on in Australia – (hope it works) here is your answer.
(You should be seeing a southbound trip along the Hume motorway)

Desert. Low organic soil
Stuff that drives you crazy. Literally
And here’s you thinking people didn’t go into deserts because there’s no water there.

To add to the insanity, that part of NSW is presented in the colour green, on the Google Sputnik photo. And you thought CO2 made Global Greening

Step further back, be careful, the Edge Of The World is close-by, join the dots you find there and:

Western Civilation is utterly petrified of its own mortality. Its citizens, especially their leaders are scared shitless by the prospect of the inevtable and totally natural thing that happens to them all.

The rats are eating each other in a grotesque effort, by each individual, to stay alive.
In doing so are hastening their own, and everyone else’s, terminal and final demise.
Biomass is The Perfect Exemplar of that
They really are destroying the village in the attempt to save it and primarily, despite all the Fine Words, their selfish selves.

I could say ‘Gaia Lives’
Yes she does, but not for much longer at the present rate.
Unless a considerable number of people join the dots as I have tried to do in this, quite epic now innit, rave.

There’s a song in there also – not quite= “The answer is blowing in the wind”
(Was that BD? I never really ‘got’ Bob Dylan)

The Answer Is Under Our Feet, or as we have hereby discovered, under The Pacific.
Don’t lose any sleep, its in lots of other places too and, some folks actually do know that

Last edited 19 days ago by Peta of Newark
Peta of Newark
Reply to  Peta of Newark
March 23, 2021 4:01 am

Aw wow, checked the link and what do we see?

The Very Embodiment of a Planet Wrecking Machine

A Volkswagen V6 Turbo Diesel Pickup (utility or ute) and in the Fast Lane

ha ha ha ha ha

Superstitious folks, show me a current or retired farmer that is not, might assert that “Gaia just smiled at me”

Love you hun, I’m on your side but grossly outnumbered.
at present

Reply to  Peta of Newark
March 23, 2021 4:14 am

news reporters were taken aback by happy flooded inland farmers saying it was just fine thanks on abc this afternoon
best laugh in many days;-)

Reply to  Peta of Newark
March 23, 2021 6:45 am

Peta, you really do need to get OUTSIDE more!!!!

I’m more interested in how the baby volcano, gradually building its cones in the classic manner, and outgassing all that methane, etc., is going to CHANGE things. It’s not explosive, so it doesn’t present an existential threat, but the last eruption on that rift zone occurred 600 years ago and last 30 years. I am fascinated by it.

March 23, 2021 3:53 am

worked on the JOIDES in the mid 90s as a Tech (thin sections and downhole tools) we had a nickname for the scientists – Pinheads, due to their general detachment from reality and severe lack of personal skills. Some were OK. Most, meh.

Danley Wolfe
March 23, 2021 5:45 am

I thought WUWT was about climate change, maybe start a “basalt blog”? And comments on vitamin B12 deficiencies? Next we get into presidential politics… COM’ON MAN !!

Reply to  Danley Wolfe
March 23, 2021 6:31 am
Last edited 19 days ago by Krishna Gans
Reply to  Danley Wolfe
March 23, 2021 6:33 am

About Watts Up With That? News and commentary on puzzling things in life, nature, science, weather, climate change, technology, and recent news by Anthony Watts

This science news site feature original content from myself as well as several contributors

March 23, 2021 6:19 am

“Looking up the ages of the globally observed LIPs it is interesting to note that most were formed during the period 150-50 million years. Much fewer LIPs were emplaced before 150 million years or after 50 million years. Seafloor spreading rates are also found to be high during a large part of this period. The episodicity in LIP emplacement appears to reflect variations in rates of mantle circulation with the period 150-50 million years representing a very active time, a kind of ‘mantle heartburn’. At the same time (~145 million years to ~50 million years) the global oceans were characterised by strong chemical variations, high temperatures, high relative sealevel, episodic deposition of black shales, high production of hydrocarbons, and mass extinction of marine organisms. A causal relationship of these environmental changes with the emplacement of LIPs is suspected.”

Reply to  Pablo
March 23, 2021 11:48 am

One hundred fifty million years represents 3% of Earth’s estimated 4.5 billion years age.

Very little is known about the vast majority of that history.

Claiming the most recent seafloor spreading rates are the fastest is absurd when so little is known about far older rift(s) spreading.

The same goes for “Large Igneous Provinces”.

March 23, 2021 6:38 am

“A new type of rock created during large and exceptionally hot volcanic eruptions has been discovered beneath the Pacific Ocean.”

Rocks, i.e. minerals get described quantitively and qualitatively. Molecular chemical structures identified, crystalline structure(s) described. Petrographical formation processes theorized.

As yet, this “basalt” is unnamed, not described.
Instead near meaningless emotive terms are used; e.g., “highly refractory” is used instead of explicit temperatures.

“An international team of researchers including the University of Leeds unearthed the previously unknown form of basalt after drilling through the Pacific ocean floor.

The discovery suggests that ocean floor eruptions sourced in the Earth’s mantle”

There it is, “the discovery suggests“, leaving the real result of this research highly inconclusive.

“The discovery suggests that ocean floor eruptions sourced in the Earth’s mantle were even hotter and more voluminous than previously thought.”

Isn’t amazing what one exploratory bore hole can accomplish!? Not only original eruption temperature, but the volume of material.

“Report co-author is Dr Ivan Savov, of Leeds’ Institute of Geophysics and Tectonics, in the university’s School of Earth and Environment.

He said: “In an era when we rightly admire discoveries made through space exploration, our findings show there are still many discoveries still to make on our own planet.”

Another insightful comment by the co-author.
A comment that suggests glory seeking jealousy of other somewhat more glamorous, e.g. intra-solar science, disciplines.

Appears to be self aggrandizing research by press release.

Carlo, Monte
Reply to  ATheoK
March 23, 2021 7:05 am

Igneous petrology—you can learn a lot from a rock just by looking at it. No computer models.

E. J. Mohr
March 23, 2021 8:14 am

So it looks like the salient feature of this article is that they discovered boninite like lavas in their drilling project. This is important because boninites are related to komatiites and can only exist at very high temperatures. Komatiites which are common in the Ontario green stone belts are PreCambrian and thought to represent the earlier hotter mantle at that time.

Therefore finding some pesky boninites or in this case similar FOB (For Arc Basin) basalts of fairly recent origin begs an explanation, or maybe the mantle is still hotter than we thought. Anyway it’s quite interesting. Komatiites are thought to require 1600C melting temps and these FOB’s may require 1400C vs typical basalt at 1150C. Mind you didn’t the recent large eruption at Hawaii produce some very liquid, very hot, very fast moving basalts?

Alan M
Reply to  E. J. Mohr
March 23, 2021 7:35 pm

Komatiites which are common in the Ontario green stone belts are PreCambrian and thought to represent the earlier hotter mantle at that time.

As are common in the Archean greenstones of Western Australia, the host to almost all our nickel sulphide deposits

March 23, 2021 8:38 am

At least it’s not unprecedented basalt, but a second thin section still holds that potential.

Bill Rocks
March 23, 2021 10:10 am

I have not read the paper but much has been published about boninites, this particular type of basalt and its derivatives.

This type of basalt is enriched in magnesium and silicon but depleted in titanium. It is believed to be the result of a two-stage melting of mantle material. The second stage creates the subject rock type and is facilitated by water derived from subducted seafloor material. Of course there is much water in ocean bottom materials such as mud.

This is specialized igneous petrology stuff and provides clues to the expert petrologist concerning earth processes such as subduction zones. In the USA, we call this “inside baseball” knowledge.

March 23, 2021 12:54 pm

Look at what is being said about the current eruption in Iceland. “There are indications that the eruption on the Reykjanes peninsula, Southwest Iceland, which began on Friday, last week, is a shield volcano eruption – a type of eruption that hardly has occurred since the end of the Ice Age.” …

Gary Pearse
March 23, 2021 9:13 pm

Komatiite is a basalt so hot (>1700°C; >3100°F) that it melted “lava river” channels into solid granite that it flowed over during the Archean Eon, 4 to 2.5 Gabp.

Whenever a huge ‘new’ discovery is made (we get dozens a year in climate science, astronomy, …), I look for a “poker tell” to evaluate the integrity of the researchers. Their new found lava may be unique. However, if they did NOT mention Komatiites and how the new one differs from them, then the work is dishonest.

March 23, 2021 11:35 pm

And what mechanism can produce such T in extruded mantle melts, recently?


But we understand geodynamics, right?

No major remaining missing bits of the jigsaw elude us?

E. J. Mohr
March 24, 2021 7:40 am

So Alan M gently reminded me that komatiites are also found in Australia. If memory serves they can be found in South Africa as well, and while I was doing a quick memory refresh I found an article from 2017 that claims that komatiite like lavas were found in Costa Rica.

Again, just like the present article this is interesting because it hints that parts, or maybe larger portions of the Earths mantle are hotter than expected. Remember that komatiites are Mg rich basalts that require 1600C to 1700C melting temperatures, and instead of the yellow glow of a Hawaiian lava flow at maybe 1150C a komatiite would glow a more white hot. Here is a link to the article:

Last edited 18 days ago by E. J. Mohr
March 24, 2021 10:22 am

I read thru all comments and so far the article is a nothing-burger. I saw no explanation of what exactly is this “new basalt”

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