Enormous volcanic eruption 1000km north of NZ went unnoticed

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Undersea eruption near New Zealand was this century's biggest

A huge 400 square kilometre raft of pumice was detected floating in the ocean near New Zealand, indicating a submarine eruption.

University of Tasmania volcanologist Dr Rebecca Carey said: "We knew it was a large scale eruption, approximately equivalent to the biggest eruption we've seen on land in the 20th Century".

The Le Havre submarine volcano.

Now, a team of researchers at the University of Tasmania have been able to shed light on the powerful eruption and how magma rises to the surface of the seabed.

Havre was discovered and mapped in 2002 by the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA), whose scientists found a 1000m-high volcano with a large steep-walled caldera 5km wide similar to Lake Taupō.

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The Havre volcano in relation to Australia and New Zealand.

The theory with deep volcanoes is that they should erupt passively, forming lava flows.

In 2012, 1000km off the coast of the North Island near Raoul Island in the Kermadec chain, a massive volcanic eruption spewed ash and rock into the deep ocean.

"With 80 percent of the Earth's volcanoes located on the seafloor, the study of submarine volcanism is very important - volcanism is an important source of heat and chemicals to the ocean and also supports life".

"The record of this eruption on Havre volcano itself is highly unfaithful - it preserves a small component of what was actually produced, which is important for how we interpret ancient submarine volcanic successions that are now uplifted and are highly prospective for metals and minerals"'.

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But Dr Carey says the Havre eruption was far more complex, involving 14 aligned vents that caused a massive rupture of the volcano edifice (the cone-shaped structure).

"We were also able to demonstrate that 80 per cent of the volume of the pumice was delivered to the pumice raft and efficiently dispersed into the Pacific Ocean landing on Micronesian island beaches and the East Australian seaboard".

University of Tasmania volcanologist Dr Rebecca Carey.

Carey said data collected for the study has also led to much interest from the broader scientific community.

"We also discovered new infant hydrothermal systems, and observing how they recover after such a large event is of importance".

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The study was published on Thursday in the journal Science Advances.

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