Volcano Discovered Is Largest On Earth: Pacific Ocean Underwater 'Tamu Massif' Is Among Solar System's Largest [PHOTO]

By Danny Choy on September 6, 2013 10:53 AM EDT

largest volcano on Earth
Tamu Massif is the largest volcano on Earth. At more than 100,000 square feet, it challenges Olympus Mons of Mars. (Photo: Illustration courtesy IODP)

The largest volcano on earth was formed 145 million years ago and has been hiding in the depths of the Pacific Ocean just 1,000 miles east of Japan. Known as the Tamu Massif, the enormous volcano is believed to be responsible for the formation of the Shatsky Rise Mountain range.

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The Tamu Massif was first studied 20 years ago by Professor William Sager of the Texas A&M university. Because the Shatsky Rise Mountain range was formed by multiple underwater volcanoes, it was difficult to accurately determine whether they were looking at the largest volcano on earth or multipler eruption points.

"We saw what appear to be lava flows going out from the center of the volcano in all directions, with no obvious large secondary source of volcanism, so that was a surprise," Sager said. The team also conducted geochemical analysis on core samples taken from the largest volcano on Earth. The huge volcano was formed from the same rock formation and of the same age.

"This finding goes against what we thought, because we found that it's one huge volcano," said William SagerTamu Massif sits 6,500 feet below sea level. According to imaging, the size of Tamu Massife is greater than the same the entire British Isles.Tamu Massif is 400 miles wide and 280 miles long, which results to more than 100,000 square miles. By comparison, the largest land volcano on Earth is Hawaii's Mauna Loa, which only measures 2,000 square miles. In fact, the only comparable volcano to the Tamu Massif is the Olympus Mons of Mars, the largest volcano within our solar system. Compared to Mons, Massif is about 75 percent as large.

"It is in the same league as Olympus Mons on Mars, which had been considered to be the largest volcano in the solar system," Sager told National Geographic.

Unlike other underwater volcanoes, the Tamu Massif does not climb steeply from the ocean bed. Instead, the rising incline of the largest volcano on Earth is so gentle that some might be fooled into thinking it's a flat surface. Near the summit the slope is just one degree. Down the flank, the slope is half a degree.

"If you were standing on the massif, you would have a hard time knowing which way is down," said Sager.

According to scientists, the mighty volcano became inactive in a relatively short ten million years. The period was likely the Late Jurassic to Early Cretaceous period.

The Tamu Massif got its name from William Sager. "Tamu" is short for Texas A&M University, Sager's university. Massif is French for "massive," and is a scientific term for a large mountain.

In a way the Tamu Massif was never discovered because scientists never knew to search for it. Now, Sager believes more work needs to be done at other oceanic plateaus. "There could be around a dozen of these things out there," he said.


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