May 30, 2009

Indonesian Scientists Discover Possible Underwater Volcano

Geologists have recently discovered a colossal underwater mountain off the coast of the Indonesian island of Sumatra, which they say may be a volcano with devastating potential.

Yusef Suruchman, a marine geologist with the Indonesian government, said that he and his colleagues discovered the mountain in early May, roughly 205 miles west of the city of Bengkulu, while working on a research project to map seismic fault lines of the region's seabed.

At a height of 4,600 meters, the massive cone-shaped mountain is roughly half as tall as Mt. Everest and has a base of 50 kilometers in diameter.  The aquatic mountain's peak is some 1.3 kilometers below the surface of the ocean.

"It looks like a volcano because of its conical shape, but it might not be," Suruchman told reporters on Friday. 

He firmly denied premature rumors that his team had found a new volcano, maintaining that it was still too early to tell and that at it this point it can only be described as a "seamount" of the kind typically found in oceans across the planet.

"Whether it's active or dangerous, who knows?" he added.

French researchers with the private international geophysical concern CGGVeritas also participated in the ultra-deep geological study.

The group of scientists had initially set out improve maps of the oceanic lithospheric plate boundaries as well as to measure seafloor displacement in the region.

The area under examination was the epicenter of the underwater earthquake responsible for giant tsunami and ensuing devastation that rocked Asia in December 2004.

The massive tsunami took the lives of over 220,000 people across the coastal regions of Asia, of which some 168,000 alone were in the province of Aceh on the northern tip of Sumatra. 

Indonesia is located directly on the area known as the "Ring of Fire," a vast circular region in the Pacific where converging continental plates have created high levels seismic and volcanic activity.