During June-August 2018, the oligotrophic North Pacific Ocean received an enormous quantity of nutrients in the form of molten lava, delivered by the erupting Kilauea on the big island of Hawaii. A phytoplankton bloom formed in response to the input of lava and an expedition was rapidly mobilized to determine its composition and the relevant biogeochemistry. We found that in addition to the nutrients derived from lava, exogenous nitrate was also present in the surface waters. Remotely operated vehicle observations in September 2019 by scientists at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution showed that lava from the 2018 eruption had reached depths of 700 m. Therefore, enabled by the intensity of the eruption and the island’s steep bathymetry, lava flows were able to extend below the thermocline and penetrate into nitrate-rich waters. Based on isotopic signatures of nitrate in the bloom, we inferred that heating of deep ocean waters resulted in the formation of buoyant seawater plumes, which rose to the sea surface. The rapid response expedition in July 2018 provided a unique opportunity to see first-hand how a massive input of exogenous nutrients alters marine ecosystems attuned to oligotrophic conditions.
Ducklow, H. and T. Plank (06 Sep 2019) Volcano-stimulated marine photosynthesis. Science. Vol. 365, Issue 6457, pp. 978-979
Wilson, S. et al. (06 Sep 2019) Kīlauea lava fuels phytoplankton bloom in the North Pacific Ocean. Science Vol. 365, Issue 6457, pp.1040-1044