A volcano at the bottom of the Pacific that is destined to be the next Hawaiian island is going high-tech with a $4 million network of cameras and seismic sensors to document its deep-sea rumblings.
"We would love to catch an eruption," Fred K. Duennebier, a professor of geology and geophysics at the University of Hawaii, said Wednesday of the Hawaiian Undersea Geo-Observatory.The observatory will be installed on Loihi seamount, an underwater volcano 22 miles southeast of the island of Hawaii. Loihi rises about 11,200 feet above the ocean floor, but its cratered summit is still 3,300 feet beneath the waves.
"It will be the next Hawaiian island in about 50,000 years or so," Duennebier said at a meeting the American Geophysical Union. "I wouldn't buy real estate yet."
The observatory, which scientists hope to have in operation within two years, will be a network of 20 or more cameras and instruments draped across Loihi's summit and slopes.
HUGO will be connected to the Big Island by a power cable that also will carry data from the observatory to scientists on shore.
A ship will lay a network of electro-optical cable and outlet boxes, then remote-controlled submarines and manned submersible vehicles will plug in cameras, microphones, seismometers and heat and chemical sensors.
It will work for at least 10 years unless it is buried by lava flows or landslides, Duennebier said.
Scientists are sure Loihi is active but haven't actually observed an eruption. Intense earthquake activity suggests eruptions happened in 1986, 1988 and early this year, Duennebier said.
The Hawaiian Islands were created by a "hot spot," a plume of molten rock that rises from deep inside the Earth. Loihi is now over the hot spot, which also has branches feeding Hawaii's active Kilauea and Mauna Loa volcanos.
Roughly 60 percent to 80 percent of the world's volcanos are on the sea floor.
"We have no idea how these volcanos are built up from the ocean floor," Duennebier said. "We don't know how the lava actually makes it to the top of the volcano."