Scott Valley Jr. High School (CA)

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Scott Valley Junior High School (Earth Science), Fort Jones, CA A selection of questions from Skype on Thursday Sept 12 with Dr. Bill Chadwick of Oregon State University and graduate student Elisa Baumgardt of University of North Carolina, Wilmington:

1. Why did you decide to study that volcano (Axial Seamount)?
Bill Chadwick: Axial Volcano is the most active volcano in the Pacific and it’s a great place to study questions about how submarine volcanoes work, especially because we don’t know very much about submarine volcanoes even though we know a lot about volcanoes on land.

2. Is there any marine life in the lava tubes?
Bill Chadwick: There are lots of microbes living under the sea floor in lava tubes and in and around the vents. The seawater is only 2-3°C but the vents emit hot water so different organisms live nearby. There’s an interesting tubeworm that looks like a centipede and I’ve only seen it two times, both times right after the 2011 eruption so it may live underground until after an eruption when it comes out to the warm lava to stay warm and then goes back underground.

3. What is a snowblower vent?
Note- we had to get more information to answer this. A snowblower vent is one with a large microbial bloom right after an eruption. The microbes are white and they get blown around on the seafloor, making it look like snow, thus the name.

4. Do you enjoy studying volcanoes?
Bill Chadwick: Oh yeah, that’s what I like to do- as a geologist I study earth processes and this is great. I got into volcanology when Mount St Helens erupted in 1980 and I thought it would be cool to work at an erupting volcano, so I volunteered to help a geologist and went into helicopters around the volcano and have been trying to do that kind of work at active volcanoes ever since. It’s very exciting to me that I get to do this research. Elisa Baumgardt: I’m also a geologist and I got into volcanology when I went on a family trip to Hawaii and I got to see the red glow of active lava. I went into lava tubes and I loved it so I decided to graduate school and study volcanology even more.

5. If an eruption happened at Axial Seamount would there be any danger to the Oregon Coast?
Bill Chadwick: No, this volcano is about 1 mile under the surface of the ocean, so there would really be no effect at the surface above. In fact, if you were in a boat (without a submersible) above the volcano when it erupted, you might not even realize it was erupting. Earthquakes associated with an eruption are small enough that they aren’t detected on the coast- a bigger concern is earthquakes associated with the subduction zone and potential tsunamis along the west coast, but not from Axial Volcano.

6. How is it living on a ship for 16 days?
Bill Chadwick: Well, sometimes we jokingly call it “sea jail” but it’s actually not bad at all. It’s a very large ship with lots of room for doing our research in the ship’s labs and with good facilities. It does move all the time but the weather has been good and not too bumpy at all.
Elisa Baumgardt: There is a library with books and a dart board, and different board games. The last few nights a group of us have been playing different board games when we’re not on a watch. There’s also an entertainment room with a TV and movies.