Video Captures Underwater 'Brimstone and Fire'

For two years now, a team of scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have been doing what no one else has ever done: watching an underwater volcano up close. Called NW Rota-1, the volcano is in the northern Pacific Ocean, near the Mariana Islands. It's not too far from a gigantic undersea trench where one continent-sized piece of the Earth's crust is grinding underneath another.

In 2004, the team discovered the volcano by tracking a large, yellowish plume in the water back to its source. They returned last month, in time to witness a full eruption.

The robotic vehicles were closer than anyone has ever been to an active volcano. The seawater dampens the heat and the gas and rock explosions, allowing the vehicles to survive the eruption.

"I never thought I'd ever be able to get that close to seeing something like this," said NOAA geologist Robert Embley. "Truthfully, we were actually awed. You could actually go right up to the rim and put your water sampler right into it and sample the fluid, that's what so amazing about it."

Early findings from the expedition are published in the current issue of the journal Nature.

A giant, eruptive plume pours out of "Brimstone Pit" crater near the summit of NW Rota-1 volcano, i i

A giant, eruptive plume pours from the "Brimstone Pit" during a 2004 expedition to NW Rota-1. Submarine Ring of Fire 2004 Exploration, NOAA-OE hide caption

itoggle caption Submarine Ring of Fire 2004 Exploration, NOAA-OE
A giant, eruptive plume pours out of "Brimstone Pit" crater near the summit of NW Rota-1 volcano,

A giant, eruptive plume pours from the "Brimstone Pit" during a 2004 expedition to NW Rota-1.

Submarine Ring of Fire 2004 Exploration, NOAA-OE
Glowing red lava jets out of the  "Brimstone Pit" crater. i i

Glowing, red lava shoots out of the "Brimstone Pit" crater near the summit of NW Rota-1 volcano, located on the floor of the northern Pacific Ocean. Submarine Ring of Fire 2006 Exploration, NOAA Vents Program hide caption

itoggle caption Submarine Ring of Fire 2006 Exploration, NOAA Vents Program
Glowing red lava jets out of the  "Brimstone Pit" crater.

Glowing, red lava shoots out of the "Brimstone Pit" crater near the summit of NW Rota-1 volcano, located on the floor of the northern Pacific Ocean.

Submarine Ring of Fire 2006 Exploration, NOAA Vents Program

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