Mud Volcano Island Rises From Sea After Pakistani Earthquake
September 26, 2013

Mud Volcano Island Rises From Sea After Pakistani Earthquake

Lawrence LeBlond for - Your Universe Online

A powerful earthquake that struck the southwestern province of Baluchistan, Pakistan Tuesday afternoon, killing hundreds of people, has given rise to a new island off the coast of the country's Gwadar Port.

The island, which rises to more than 60 feet above sea level, received its first visits yesterday from local residents wanting to explore the small muddy, rocky landmass. As locals surveyed the new islet, it became evident that the island was more alive than they had anticipated.

A local journalist who decided to take part in the visit described to the BBC that the mound was littered with dead fish. However, the most unsettling discovery was the release of what seemed to be gas of some kind.

"We could hear the hissing," Bahram Baloch said, adding that persistent flames appeared when a lit match was put near it. "Not even the water could kill it, unless one poured buckets over it."

A Pakistani marine biologist who also visited the site explained to GEO.TV that the gas was methane.

However, USGS geophysicist Bill Barnhart expressed to ABC News that it is unlikely to be methane, due to the fact that methane gas in that region is typically farther offshore and much deeper. "It's not the most likely scenario. It could also be carbon dioxide, fluids in the ground."

Whatever the gas is, it is likely scientists only have a short time to study it. If the island follows popular tradition, it will sink back down into the sea within a few months. A similar island popped up in the 1960s after a large earthquake, only to vanish in less than a year. A 1940s quake produced an island that existed for only a few weeks.

Barnhart later told NatGeo’s Brian Clark Howard that the island is “a transient feature… It will probably be gone within a couple of months. It's just a big pile of mud that was on the seafloor that got pushed up."

Such mud islands, created by so-called mud volcanoes, occur all over the world and Barnhart and his colleagues agree that this is what is occurring off the Pakistani coast. The island does appear to be created of mud from the seafloor, although rocks are also prominent on the landmass.

Barnhart explained to NatGeo that although mud volcanoes can be found everywhere, they don’t always produce islands. Evidence of this occurred in California after an earthquake in 2010. Barnhart said tremors caused carbon dioxide to seep up through the ground, producing a lot of boiling bubbles, but no island of any kind.

Pakistani scientists have already made plans to begin investigating the island before it decides to sink back into the abyss in order to gain a better understanding of how and why it formed.

“We don't know much about it so far," Barnhart noted. "We haven't had a satellite pass over it yet to really identify it."

While scientists gear up to study the newly-formed island, the Pakistani government is still trying to dig out from the recent temblor, which measured 7.7 on the Richter scale. At last count, the death toll was at more than 340 with hundreds more injured.