University Of Wyoming Professor Helps Discover Undersea Volcano

Oct 9, 2020

A sonar image of Mount Mahoney, the volcano discovered under the Indian Ocean, compared to the Snowy Range (bottom left) for scale.
Credit Koepke, Marum, Universitat Bremen and Sato Image, inset from Google Earth

A volcano on the floor of the ocean has recently been discovered by researchers.

University of Wyoming Associate Professor of Geology and Geophysics Michael Cheadle was onboard a German research ship for its expedition earlier this year. He said they were mapping parts of the Indian Ocean seafloor because it's one of the least explored places on Earth.

"The truth is we know much less about the bottom of the sea than we do, for example, about the surface of the moon or Mars," Cheadle said. "That's because we can send a satellite to the moon and Mars, but when we come to the oceans, there's six kilometers of water in the way."

The team sent a robotic submarine to the bottom of the ocean to take pictures. They were able to map the area and found a volcano that is 18 miles long and one mile high. Cheadle said discovering the volcano was much like being the first to find the Snowy Range. In other words, very exciting.

He said under the ocean, the geology comes from plate tectonics with no erosion from wind or rivers.

"All the topography you see down there, all the mountains, can really only be formed by volcanoes, they could be faults, in other words big cracks in the earth formed because you're pulling the plates apart, or they could be landslides," said Cheadle.

Cheadle said learning about the ocean is important because it makes oxygen, absorbs a lot of carbon dioxide and has the most biodiversity on the planet. He says volcanoes like this one are often the sites of hydrothermal vents, which host some of the earliest lifeforms on Earth.

Have a question about this story? Please contact the reporter, Ashley Piccone, at apiccone@uwyo.edu.