World's biggest volcano found under Pacific Ocean

A 3-D image of Tamu Massif, the world's biggest volcano, was discovered under the Pacific Ocean and named after Texas A&M University.

Scientists have confirmed that an underwater mass in the Pacific is the world's biggest volcano and have named it Tamu Massif after Texas A&M University.

A scientist who discovered the world's biggest volcano — an underwater plateau in the Pacific Ocean about the size of New Mexico — has named it after Texas A&M, the university where he taught for nearly three decades.

William Sager, an oceanographer who spent 29 years working at Texas A&M in the College of Geosciences, was part of a team that examined a large underwater area in the northwest Pacific known as the Shatsky Rise, located about 1,000 miles southeast of Japan.

World's biggest volcano lies beneath Pacific Ocean

World's biggest volcano lies beneath Pacific Ocean
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Sager, who is now with the University of Houston, found that the plateau contained three enormous mounds and named the largest one Tamu Massif — Tamu as the abbreviation for Texas A&M, while massif comes from French for "massive" and is a scientific term for a large mountain mass.

"We got tired of referring to them as the one on the left, the one on the right and the big one,” Sager said in a Texas A&M news release.

RIVALS MARTIAN VOLCANOES

Sager started studying Tamu Massif about 20 years ago. Until now, researchers weren't sure whether Tamu Massif was a single volcano or a composite of many eruption points. Scientists examined core samples and data collected on board a research ship to confirm that the mass of basalt is one big volcano, believed to be about 145 million years old.

Sager said final calculations determined the volcano is about 120,000 square miles in area, or about the size of New Mexico, making it by far the largest ever discovered on Earth. By comparison, Hawaii's Mauna Loa — the largest active volcano on Earth — is approximately 2,000 square miles, or roughly 2 percent the size of Tamu Massif, according to the University of Houston.

"It rivals in size some of the largest volcanoes in the solar system, such as Olympus Mons on Mars," Sager said.

The team's research is detailed in the Sept. 8 issue of the journal Nature Geoscience.

VALUABLE CLUES

Scientists said Tamu Massif also stands out for its shape: It is unusually low and broad for an underwater volcano.

"Its shape is different from any other sub-marine volcano found on Earth, and it's very possible it can give us some clues about how massive volcanoes can form," Sager was quoted as saying in a University of Houston press release.

"An immense amount of magma came from the center, and this magma had to have come from the Earth's mantle. So this is important information for geologists trying to understand how the Earth's interior works."

Sager's team included researchers from Oregon State, Yale, the University of Hawaii and the United Kingdom.

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