Hawaii scientists discover lava caused massive algae bloom

HILO, Hawaii — Hawaii scientists say lava from the 2018 Kilauea volcanic eruption has triggered an algae bloom that could be seen from outer space, a newspaper said.

NASA satellite images of the Big Island eruption showed water turned green around where the lava was entering the ocean, The Hawaii Tribune-Herald reported Friday.

University of Hawaii and University of Southern California scientists monitored and researched the phenomenon, scientists said. They discovered a phytoplankton bloom more than 100 miles (160 kilometers) long and 20 miles (32 kilometers) wide caused by higher levels of nutrients in the water.

“Lava was heating up in deeper waters that have nutrients,” co-lead author of the study Nick Hawko said. “And because (the nutrients) were heating up, they became really buoyant and floated back to the surface.”

Water chemistry tests were conducted to record the biological response to lava flowing into the ocean within days of the eruption, scientists said. The tests signaled large amounts of chlorophyll, the green pigment in algae and other plants responsible for photosynthesis, the process of converting light into energy.

“When the lava started entering the ocean, we started seeing the presence of this high abundance of phytoplankton,” said Sam Wilson, another co-lead author. “This new accumulation of nutrient being pushed up was enough for the phytoplankton to accumulate.”

The scientists’ findings were published in Thursday’s edition of the journal Science, the newspaper reported.

“I’m not sure we can say anything definitively, but generally, algae is sort of the base of the marine food chain, so all other life that we see in the ocean, whether it’s fish or whales or giant squids, are dependent upon this base of the marine food chain,” Hawko said, indicating the team hopes to continue research.

“The Kilauea 2018 eruption was devastating,” Wilson said. “Yet at the same time, the lava going into the ocean fueled microscopic life, created new land and, while it was destructive, was also creative.”


Information from: Hawaii Tribune-Herald, http://www.hawaiitribune-herald.com/


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