Because Axial Seamount erupted so recently, we have a really unique opportunity to see what a seafloor lava flow looks like so soon after it occurs. During my watch today, we came across the new lava flow for the first time, and it was pretty incredible! Most of the lava we’ve been moving over since we arrived on site has been there for a while and is covered with some degree of sediment. Sometimes over sheet flows (really flat areas), there is so much sediment no lava is visible. The new lava, however, is deep black, and often shiny with volcanic glass. Massive, unperturbed pillow lavas cover extensive areas, and we started our exploration of this new area today. At one point we came across beautiful lava pillars holding up a ceiling of fresh lava flow—at one point magma flowed through this area in a lava tube and left behind only the pillars and ceiling which solidified before everything else.
My favorite lava feature, however, were the many lava whorls I saw today. Huge swirls in the lava rock are formed when sheet flows are moving next to each other at different rates, and essentially they swirl together to make these beautiful lava features.
As I’m writing this, I’m watching the live feed that is streaming in the main lab on the ship. We just came across snow blowers—an environment found, so far, only in fresh lava flows where plentiful white microbes and material produced by microbes flow out of holes in the sea floor in big snow-like chunks. Theory behind them is that after an eruption, voids under the seafloor are left from magma chambers which are soon filled with seawater seeping into the crust via cracks and crevices. The water is warm, and the perfect environment for these single-celled organisms to flourish. The rocks around the snow blower are covered in either white or rust-orange colors—most likely filamentous chemosynthetic bacteria that is thriving in the volcanic environment rich in carbon dioxide and hydrogen sulfide. Dr. Deb Kelley herself said the view we had on the snowblower tonight was the best thing she has seen on the seafloor.