Here’s how rivers of lava flowing into the ocean created a massive algae bloom

This image from 2018 shows lava entering the ocean off the Big Island. (Image: Karin...
This image from 2018 shows lava entering the ocean off the Big Island. (Image: Karin Bjorkman/University of Hawaii)
Updated: Sep. 5, 2019 at 4:52 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - During last year’s eruption of Kilauea, many saw the incredible volume of lava that spewed from the ground as not only a source of destruction but of creation.

And a new study published in the journal Science supports that perspective.

It looked at the massive algae bloom in the Pacific ― so big it could be seen by satellite ― that was triggered by millions of cubic feet of lava pouring into the ocean off the Big Island.

Researchers at the University of Hawaii and University of Southern California found that the lava actually created a nutrient-thick soup across a wide expanse of ocean that helped algae to thrive.

The nutrients didn’t come from the lava itself, they found, but because the lava was heating up subsurface water and pushing nutrients deep in the ocean up to the surface.

The Pacific Ocean is actually quite nutrient-poor, which makes the algae bloom all the more unique.

And algae (a type of phytoplankton) does a big job in the water, gobbling up carbon dioxide, producing oxygen and serving as a foundation of the marine food web.

The researchers said it’s possible that similar ocean fertilization events happened in the past.

“The expedition in July 2018 provided a unique opportunity to see first-hand how a massive input of external nutrients alters marine ecosystems that are finely attuned to low-nutrient conditions,” said Sam Wilson, co-lead author of the study, in a news release. “Ecosystem responses to such a substantial addition of nutrients are rarely observed or sampled in real time.”

For more on the study, click here.

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