ARCTIC SEA ICE: Undersea Volcanoes In the Arctic; Part 1

I see no need of waffling about with a long introduction, as if making a point requires foreplay. The simple fact of the matter is that a hole appeared in thick sea-ice in the spring of 2021 in the rough vicinity of the undersea, volcanic Gakkel Ridge. Although for a time the actual sea-ice drifted to the east the hole “burned” its way west, and then when the sea-ice shifted back to the west the hole “burned” to the east. This strongly suggested (to me) that the power that made the hole was different from the power that moved the sea-ice. My guess was that the sea-ice was shifted by surface winds, but the hole was made by a plume of warm water up-welling from lava beneath. Over the course of two months the hole gradually drifted across the 90 degree east longitude line, and then seemed to loose its power to keep a separate identity. Converging winds eventually crunched the sides of the hole together, creating a pressure ridge where there once had been a hole, as the entire area moved towards Fram Strait, and towards being eventually flushed down into the Atlantic.

I then did my best to stir up some debate about volcanoes melting sea-ice, at various sites, but failed. Then I sulked, and morosely watched the same area, to see if there were other “holes”. I saw nothing for months, until last summer, much later in the melt season when the sea-ice was much thinner. In late August four holes appeared. They were fleeting and ephemeral, but not associated with any divergence of sea-ice that I could see. Interestingly, later they too collapsed into four small spots of pressure ridging, and began slowly drifting towards Fram Strait.

There you have it. That is the totality of my evidence. Or, well, there was an earlier hole around a seven years ago that got me in the habit of watching that area. A person commenting on this site sent me a screen-shot picture and asked me if I thought the pictured hole might be caused by a volcano. I had to confess I had no idea, but that when I tried to research the topic I noticed people avoiding the topic, which did seem odd.

To be blunt, the topic seems to cause some researchers to practically break out in hives. They’d deflect and distract and change the subject. I assumed it was because it was in some ways taboo to suggest anything other than CO2 causes decreases in sea-ice. The powers that control the puppet strings of funding, of advances and grants and promotions and awards, had somehow made it clear that there are certain directions research shalt not go. What boobs.

Besides steering carefully around the reefs of talk-about-seafloor-volcanoes, researchers also seemed to need to walk-on-eggs concerning solar cycles, whether they be the shorter sunspot cycle or longer cycles involving whether the sun is “noisy” or “quiet”. Apparently the powers-that-be noted the sun is not influenced by the levels of CO2 on earth, and therefore they decreed, “Thou shalt dismiss the sun as a cause for increases and decreases in sea-ice.” Fluctuation in solar radiation were then obediently scoffed-at as “too small to matter”, even as a tinier change, from three-parts-per-ten-thousand to four-parts-per-ten-thousand, were claimed to matter hugely…(in terms of funding, I think. Do you want a paycheck? Or not?)

I find this all frustrating, and just plain annoying. When simple observation notices a curiosity, it is only natural for curious people to go look at the curiosity. In a sense a curiosity is an opportunity. It is a chance to discover. And most scientists delight in discovery.

Besides those who shy away from talking about the possible effects of volcanoes on the floor of the arctic sea, there is the occasional lone wolf. Often they are amateurs like myself, who don’t make any money off being curious, nor require any funding to remain curious. As lone wolves, we scent the blood in the water; perhaps we should be called lone sharks. Whatever you call us, we occasionally meet in obscure chat rooms and compare notes, and bounce wild theories around, and nearly always vent our frustration that there is not more research on what should be researched.

One thing about the Gakkel Ridge is that every time they have managed to scrape together funding and do a little research they have discovered things that have shattered science’s preconceptions.

Bathymetrische Karte vom Gakkel-Rücken

One thing discovered, or rather verified, was reports of volcanic craters down roughly two and half miles beneath the ice. The craters had been seen by Russian and British and American submarines using sonar during their Cold War shenanigans, and the craters puzzled scientists because, according to theory, there could not be craters down so deep. Craters require gaseous explosions, and according to theory the pressures were too extreme down so deep. Even CO2 exists as a liquid, (as it does under pressure in a fire extinguisher,) down that deep. This was a curiosity that attracted the curious.

There seemed to be two ways a volcano could explode. A caladra could eject a plug of lava from its vent, reducing pressure in the lava beneath which then, like soda pop in a bottle when the cap is removed, would abruptly release gas at such a rapid rate it would explode lava out of the volcano, creating a crater. Also, should the caldera eject enough lava it would become an enormous cavern of super-heated air, floored by a lake of lava, whereupon a failure of a wall and an inrush of ocean water could cause a sudden, tremendous creation of steam capable of blowing the top of a mountain off. However it seemed impossible to meet such a criterion two and a half miles down. The pressure would be too extreme. Most explorations by robot submarines suggested at such depths lava could only ooze out of mid-ocean rifts. Yet here there were craters! Was there some third way volcanoes could explode?

A series of undersea earthquakes in 1999 made curiosity too great to bear, and in 2007 a robotic submarine was sent down to take a look. There was fresh evidence a never-seen-before (at such depth) eruption had spread volcanic shards over a 10 km2 area.

If you glance through the above article you will notice it does not mention anything about warming water or melting sea-ice. I think what got them in trouble with the powers-that-be was when they attempted to theorize what could have caused a blast under such pressure. They theorized it was impossible to create steam under such pressure, but if sufficiently high levels of CO2 could be drawn from the lava it could be heated to a degree where it became gaseous. And the lead scientist likely made a political mistake by saying:

“This means that a tremendous blast of carbon dioxide was released into the water column during the explosive eruption.”

I imagine this broke the commandment, “Thou shalt not say there is any source of CO2 other than fossil fuels.” Call me a suspicious old coot if you wish, but, in terms of research on Gakkel Ridge, you could have heard a pin drop for nearly 15 years. (There was one study in 2014 I can find little about, and there may have been some others, but, if so, they received very little publicity, and were shadow banned so effectively, I haven’t found word of them on the web. If you find one, please alert me in the comments below.)

But now at long last some research is going on up there. But I find it amusing the lengths they’ve gone to assure everyone their research has nothing to do with climate, CO2, or sea-ice. The research is ongoing by NASA, and it’s aim has nothing to do with Earth. It has to do with the exploration of “icy worlds” like Europa (a moon of Jupiter) and Enceladus (a moon of Saturn). Far enough away for you?

I can’t help but chuckle over the language they use. In a related NASA paper I read,

“We should be pinching ourselves because it turns out that the first vent-site tracked to source in the Arctic is a very useful analog for answering questions pertinent to Enceladus missions,” said Chris German of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

In a sense I feel a little sad. Are they not allowed to find things that might be very useful to answering questions pertinent to planet Earth?

However I have hope. In the same paper I spotted the line,

When collecting samples from the plume of material emanating from the vent, the scientists uncovered other ways in which this hydrothermal system is unique.

You see that word, “unique”? That means it was never seen before. That means it cannot have been expected. That means it is puzzling, and that word “puzzling” has the power to draw scientific minds like a light draws moths.

No matter how hard the powers-that-be use mothballs, the moths will find a way to see the light.

Stay Tuned.

(P.S. I am sketching out a future post on the effects a lava flow might have on the currents of an Arctic Ocean. To play it safe this Arctic Ocean will not be on Earth, but on a planet called Mirth. Mirth is exactly like Earth, but on Mirth they are allowed to have volcanoes melt sea-ice.)


18 thoughts on “ARCTIC SEA ICE: Undersea Volcanoes In the Arctic; Part 1

  1. I’ve never heard of the Gakkel Ridge, but am going to keep an eye open for it in future.

    I think you’re right on all fronts.

    I remember long time ago when Surtsey first erupted an Icelandic politician saying that it wouldn’t be long until Scotland would be in Iceland’s territorial waters. Does anyone publish data on potential new islands in mid Atlantic?

    It doesn’t seem unreasonable that in a volcanically active region, undersea volcanoes witll erupt from time to time, just as they do on land. If they do it undersea ice then depending on several factors such as time of year/ice extent, ice thickness, eruption duration and strength of eruption. Even the most active volcanoes switch off for fairly long periods. So you’d need decades of satellite imagines to detect these eruptions.
    What effect would the Tongan eruption have had if it was under Arctic Sea ice? Equally dramatic in a different way?

    • There is actually a super caldera at the end of the Gakkel Ridge. It erupted 1.1 million years ago (how they know with so little research, I’m not sure.) They guess it was a giant eruption, roughly as large as Yellowstone’s. What happens when an explosion like that happens two miles down? It would be fun to sit about with scientists and hear them brainstorm!

      • Re the age of the eruption …. assuming they drilled it then they could do the age from isotopes in core sample (possibly paleo magnetics too) or a simpler but “good enough” estimate could be made from the thickness of the sediment layer over lying the basalts but that assumes sedimentation at a steady rate for the period you are calculating … usually good enough for government work.
        Often ages like this in proper papers will have the 1.1 +/- 0.2 million years to show the degree of accuracy (or inaccuracy).
        Glad to hear you are over the flu …. so far I have been as healthy as us geezers ever get with the exception of knee pain when I ski that is just nucking futs …. I don’t know what is going on there as I was relatively pain free last season and was fine walking about but the pain skiing was excruciating in Dec …. I return to Fernie this week to see if this is terminal or if the planets were incorrectly aligned in Dec but are fine now and my geezer knees are pain free 😉
        Also Dec was insanely cold at times and first the upper mountain closed due to cold and especially wind and then they shut the whole hill down around Dec 21st …. I drove home Dec 23rd after fighting with a car that wouldn’t start … the block heater plug wasn’t making contact on the shitty old extension cord but an adapter allowed me to get a good connection and then 4 hours of block heater & battery charger and I was off. I saw -32 C on the trip home …. plenty nasty even by Great White North standards.
        I am too old for the 30 below shit 😦 whether it is skiing, shovelling or travelling …. just too extreme for my liking.

      • Nice to hear from you. Weird how the knee acted up. Likely it rusted over the summer. Just needed to be worked out. I seem to rust overnight. Need oil in the morning, and a bit of exercise. I take collagen hoping it does some good.

        I agree about avoiding cold. I find I have to keep moving. However, people down here are very wimpy and feel school should be cancelled if it gets to zero (-17 Celsius). I checked and it’s fine to have small children outside (in windless conditions) right down to -15 (-26 Celsius). They just need to dress properly and avoid getting wet. But wet, badly dressed children can suffer hypothermia well above freezing temperatures. In any case, the kids at my childcare are not wimps, and might even qualify as honorary Canadians.

        I have to keep moving for once I get chilled it is very hard to warm back up again. I think I chill to the core much more quickly. Likely I should invest in a sauna.

        That arctic blast in December was really something. Joe Bastardi seems to feel the current respite won’t last, and we could get more blasts the second half of January. Hang onto your hat!

    • Yes, the caldara does collapse, but that involves some sort of hole for it to collapse into. In the case of towering volcanoes, the lava can drain out of magma chambers by finding escape routes down the slopes, creating an empty cavern for the peak to collapse into (sometimes putting such pressure on the lava that the lava escaping down the slope increases dramatically). But it is hard to escape “down the slope” when you are starting out two miles down, pretty much at rock bottom. In such cases the “empty cavern” is created purely by the volcano blowing so much lava upwards that the magma chamber is literally empty, and the roof is held up by high pressure gasses, until they aren’t enough and the roof caves in. But how this might happen two miles down, under those extreme pressures, is something I’d like to hear scientists discuss.

      The rule of thumb is that for every ten meters you submerge you add another “atmosphere” of pressure. So, two miles down, we are talking roughly 321 “atmospheres” of pressure. Things don’t behave the same under such duress, which is why it would be fun to get scientists talking, preferably after plying them with alcohol.

      • There are Hydro-thermal vents in the Atlantic off the Azores at about 3000 metres, roughly two miles depth. only discovered about 10 years ago if memory serves. Water comes out at around 250-350’C.
        There are others with water at higher temperatures. All these vents deposit minerals as the water cools. A lot, if not all, support life despite the environment appearing pretty hostile.
        Further research:
        The deepest undersea volcanic eruption ever recorded was at 1200 metres. The video is quite spectacular.,eruptions%20on%20Earth%20take%20place%20in%20the%20ocean.
        The most northerly volcano is Beerenberg (Bear Mountain from Polar Bears seen by early Dutch explorers) at 71’N. As only 20% of volcanoes are thought to be on land then there must be a fair number of both volcanoes and hydro-thermal vents under the ice in the Arctic Ocean quietly getting on doing what these things do and without our knowledge.

      • Gents it is good that you have an interest in this stuff but you should have been in Geology to get a good grounding first before going off with a bit of knowledge and huge gaps of background.
        NOAA sez black smokers were found in 1977 …. I think the knowledge of them predates that but mining geologists weren’t screaming about them. If geologists get some knowledge of how mineral occurrences formed we tend to keep it to ourselves hoping there is an advantage to finding the next Sudbury. I was mapping them and a mess of island arcs on the Canadian Shield in the late 1970’s in the Grenville Greenstone Belt and trying to figure out what we were looking at!
        You know I couldn’t find any good papers to link you to …. everything is paywalled.
        Pretty much all eruptions in the ocean basins will be along the spreading ridges / mid ocean ridges … there are exceptions like Hawaii and my fav the Reunion hot spot …. go looking at the Deccan Traps for info on the Reunion hotspot. But the Deccan traps started forming sometime before the dino extinction and continued for sometime after. An interesting coincidence 😉
        The Gakkel Ridge is an ultra slow spreading ridge (not sure that term was around when I got my degree).
        I think you are on a wild goose chase re volcanoes melting sea ice …. kind of like trying to raise the sea level by pissing in the ocean. Ocean currents and especially warm ocean currents combined with wind / storms would be where my bet would be placed and I know Caleb has talked / posted on both these subjects.
        Re the hole for the magma to go into for the caldera to collapse. Not necessary you just need a better escape route for the magma to follow and all the magma backs out of the volcano chamber, pipes etc and heads for the easier way out. Easy peasy hole!!
        One last thought, be careful with continental volcanoes and oceanic activity …. very different basalt types and that is why the continents float so much higher on the mantle than the ocean crust does and also why continental volcanoes can be like Mount St Helens and blow up real good.
        I was lucky enough to have Tuzo Wilson come in to lecture for 2 weeks even though he had retired from teaching … it was like having a god come to teach. And yeah I know Wegner was the first to really push continental drift but Tuzo got some of the mechanisms right (tranform faults) and then the paleomagnetic record on the ocean floor sealed the deal.
        Lots here on the spreading ridges etc and paleomagnetic info is about the 12 minute mark,mid-ocean%20ridges%20where%20the%20sea%20floor%20is%20spreading.
        Have fun … keep your stick on the ice.

        Hey how come no rink at the daycare?

      • I have to be ulta careful with small kids and our southern ice. Thaws and winter rains lift and lower the ice, and springs under the ice and by shores make thin places. Fallen through a time or two in my time. It would be really bad for business to loe a child, and small childen have zero common sense. They’ll head out on ice so thin it bends beneath them. I’ve grabbed a couple to stop them. But once it gets really cold I’ll take them out on the flood control reservoir. They love it, especially when the ice makes strange noises expanding. I learned to avoid skating, however, because it is quite a job getting the skates on and off. I’ll leave it to Canada to provide the hockey stars.

        One thing I read about ther Gakkel Ridge “smokers” is that the mineral content is different, and contais metals including (drum roll) GOLD. Ever run into that?

        One hing

      • Yeah re the gold …. I am pretty sure all ridges will have gold, at least in trace amounts. Pretty much all the continental shield gold is from ancient mid ocean ridge and volcanic / island arc smokers that were stuck together during the building of the continents a long time ago.

      • I don’t want to hear about trace amounts. I want to hear about one pound nuggets. That’ll stimulate research of the gakkel ridge just a wee bit, I imagine.

      • Also, according to the dubious source Wikapedia, the Gakkel Caldera is from a super-volcano. They state:

        “The Gakkel Ridge Caldera, also known as Gakkel Caldera, is a Pleistocene volcanic caldera located on the Gakkel Ridge beneath the Arctic Ocean, off the northern coast of Siberia. It erupted approximately 1.1 million years ago, with an estimated eruptive volume of 3,000 km3 (720 cu mi). This eruption places it at VEI-8 on the Volcanic Explosivity Index, making it one of the most explosive volcanoes on Earth during the Pleistocene along with Yellowstone Caldera and Lake Toba. It is the only known supervolcano located directly on the mid-ocean ridge.”

        The fact we are apparently talking about 720 cubic miles of lava sort of fries my thinking. That is when I shut up and listen to scientists. However I can’t shut up all the questions I have.

      • Here is a question regarding 720 cubic miles of lava. If used that lava to pave a road a tenth of a mile wide from my house to yours, roughly 2600 miles away, how thick would the pavement be?

      • Too much math there for my liking 😉 … also being a Canuck I don’t do miles anymore so I would need cubic metres …. m3
        However it would be a pretty easy formula to set up …. maybe once I reach Fernie tomorrow.
        Also re the Wiki super volcano nonsense …. I wouldn’t trust any of that “super caldera stuff” … dumbass volcanologists telling scary super volcano stories, scarier than the last scary super volcano story!!! And the scarier the better to get more grant money to “study the problem”.
        Mother Earth is a pretty gentle lady for the most part.

      • I spent a delightful evening studying your old stomping grounds in Sudbury, Ontario. A Precambrian comet smashed into Earth? Creating a circular crack in the crust that oozed rich minerals? Do you think it was a circle of “smokers” in a shallow sea? One thing I found interesting is that, despite the short growing season, the farmland in the ancient crater is very rich due to all the minerals. Must have been interesting geology to investigate, back in the day.

        My math says: 720 square miles = 2600 miles x 0.1 miles wide x 2.769 miles thick. So, 720 square miles of lava could pave a highway a tenth of a mile wide from my house to your house with the pavement nearly three miles thick. That’s a lot of lava! (4.456274 km thick).

      • Sudbury is a lot more complex than that … it occurs at the intersection of three precambrian provinces …. that was always a coincidence that troubled me …. Anyway the Grenville, Superior & Southern provinces meet there. The Grenville is the most mineral rich and seems to be comprised of a mess of mineral rich terranes that were accreted to the growing North American craton or shield and there was a lot of volcanism with the plate movements / subduction.
        Don’t lose sight of the fact that Sudbury’s present day surface was probably about 10 km (maybe miles) deep at the time of the meteor impact.
        Good paper here … it will make your head hurt …. almost all the authors cited are after my 1980 graduation … I truly am ancient.
        Doing field work in Sudbury was awesome … long days but we returned each evening to the Sheraton and headed for the Mermaid Lounge to work out and have a swim & enjoy a few adult beverages … then a good restaurant meal and a good sleep in a comfy bed …. very different to the shit show I experienced in Northern Quebec in 1979 …. both are really good geology so no complaints there but being in the bush for 10 weeks straight with only two of us and a weekly food supply flight was enough to make me switch from mineral exploration and head to Calgary upon graduation and go into oil & gas exploration. Heady times.
        I am amazed that with your natural curiosity u didn’t end up in university in a science program … we both suffered from the looking out the window in the classroom but my problem was a lack of interest in anything artsy …. science and math were interesting and came easy to me, especially physics, geography and non calculus math.
        I loved the Meteorology class I took too and might have switched to weather but I thought I was too far along in Geology to start over.
        Good talking … enjoy the paper … hopefully the link works.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.