URI Scientists May Mount Research Expedition To An Active Underwater Volcano In Caribbean

Aug 3, 2015

Scientists at the University of Rhode Island may mount a research expedition to the most active underwater volcano in the Caribbean Sea. Disaster management authorities there have been on alert for more than a week. Earthquakes have been recorded around the area of the volcano known as Kick’Em Jenny off the coast of the island of Grenada, indicating a potential eruption. 

But alert levels have been scaled back from orange to yellow (orange means an eruption is possible within 24 hours).

Scientists at the University of Rhode Island’s Graduate School of Oceanography created this bathymetric map of the volcano color coded by depth. The cooler colors are deeper and the warmer colors are shallower.
Credit Courtesy of URI's Steven Carey

Steven Carey, an oceanography professor at the University of Rhode Island and one of the foremost experts on Kick’Em Jenny, said now the question is whether the volcano already had a small eruption.

“So we are looking into getting another cruise to go there and go back and have a look at the volcano,” said Carey.

Carey and other URI scientists created detailed maps and photo mosaics of the volcano’s crater the last time they were there in 2014 and 2013.

“So we have very good information of what the volcano looked like before this particular activity,” said Carey. “We could tell very quickly whether there was another event [eruption] that took place.”

The volcano has erupted 12 times, on average every 10 years, since it was discovered in 1939. The last eruption happened in 2001. 

Most of the world’s volcanoes are underwater. About three quarters of the earth’s volcanic activity happen beneath the oceans at very deep levels, usually around 6,000 feet, said Carey.

Kick’Em Jenny is relatively shallow, but the energy of its eruption may break the ocean surface and inject material into the atmosphere.

“Kick’Em Jenny has done that,” said Carey. “In 1939, when it erupted, the eruption breached the surface and injected hot particles of magna and gases into the atmosphere.”

A volcanic eruption may have devastating effects to local marine life. The government of Grenada has set an exclusion zone directly over the volcano for ships. During eruption, the volcano emits gases that reduce the water's density. “A ship, which is passing over, can actually sink because it’s too heavy in the gas-rich water,” said Carey.

The Seismic Research Center of the University of West Indies in Trinidad is monitoring the volcano. Experts at that center have worked closely with URI scientists.

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