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Last updated on April 24, 2014 at 17:35 EDT

New Zealand Royal Navy Finds Large Pumice Raft In The South Pacific

August 14, 2012

Brett Smith for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online

Sailors aboard the New Zealand Royal Navy vessel HMNZS Canterbury spotted something odd floating in the ocean a few days ago – a bounty of beauty supplies bobbing in the South Pacific.

Pumice is typically used in salons to exfoliate dead skin and the lightweight volcanic rock can often be seen floating in the ocean in large groupings. However, it is rarely seen covering a swath of ocean roughly the size of New Hampshire, a sight one Kiwi seaman described as “the weirdest thing I’ve seen in 18 years at sea.

The floating island was first spotted by a New Zealand air force plane about 600 miles northeast of the island nation. The Navy ship arrived at the phenomenon several days later.

“As far ahead as I could observe was a raft of pumice moving up and down with the swell,” said Lt. Tim Oscar to BBC News.

“The rock looked to be sitting two feet above the surface of the waves, and lit up a brilliant white color in the spotlight. It looked exactly like the edge of an ice shelf,” he added. “I knew the pumice was lightweight and posed no danger to the ship. Nonetheless it was quite daunting to be moving toward it at 14 knots. It took about 3 to 4 minutes to travel through the raft of pumice and as predicted there was no damage.”

“As we moved through the raft of pumice we used the spotlights to try and find the edge – but it extended as far as we could see.”

New Zealand officials reported the rock float to be 250 nautical miles long by 30 nautical miles wide. Nautical miles are slightly larger than regular miles, measuring about 6,076 feet. Satellite photos show streaks of white in the South Pacific that could easily be mistaken for foam on the water´s surface or clouds over the ocean.

Scientists suspect a volcano called Monowai as the source of the ℠raft´ of floating rocks that could be seen from space. To form pumice, a frothy mix of liquid hot magma and cooler sea water produces a rock filled with holes caused by the trapping of gases found within the lava. Officials said the recently discovered phenomenon is probably not related to the eruption at New Zealand’s Mount Tongariro last week, which sent ash 20,000 feet into the air.

The naval ship called in a group of researchers from GNS Science that was traveling nearby on another military ship. The New Zealand research group collected samples of the rock, which will be analyzed to determine the source of the rocks, according to the Navy´s Facebook page.

Besides being a beauty aid, recent studies have suggested that the earliest microbes found a home within the pores of pumice floating across the primordial seas. The floats may have also transported animals and plants across long stretches of ocean or down rivers.

People have been using the porous rock since ancient times. Roman engineers used the stone as a cement additive to build parts of Pantheon and their famous aqueducts. Today, pumice has slightly less epic uses in pencil erasers, polishes, and stone-wash jean production.


Source: Brett Smith for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online