Video: Largest underwater lava found

updated 8/31/2004 8:16:40 PM ET 2004-09-01T00:16:40

Japanese scientists have discovered the remains of the world’s largest lava flow, more than 11,000 feet (3,400 meters) below sea level off the coast of Peru.

The lava flow spreads 25 miles (40 kilometers) north to south, and nine miles (15 kilometers) east to west.

“This volume covers some 300 square kilometers (116 square miles),” said Hidenori Kumagai of the Institute for Research on Earth Evolution. “It’s almost four or five times the total in a year of magma generated on the earth.”

A piloted submersible — the Shinkai, meaning “deep sea” in Japanese — allows spectacular views of the lava. The submersible is the world’s leading deep-sea vessel. No other can make it down to 21,325 feet (6,500 meters).

Japan began developing the deep-sea survey vehicle in the early 1980s. The Shinkai 6500 was built in 1990 by Mitsubishi Heavy Industrial at the cost of $100 million. Each dive costs about $30,000.

This gigantic lava flow is believed to be the remainder of a series of volcanic eruptions 20,000 to 30,000 years ago.

Japanese scientists surveyed the area of the East Pacific Ridge off the Peruvian coast from June to August. The scientists working on this project say the discovery could change theories on plate tectonics dramatically.

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