Imagine you’re out at sea, on a sailboat, enjoying the ocean and all of its sublime blue beauty when bang, you suddenly find yourself smack dab in the middle of an endless plain of undulating rocky waves reminiscent of Tatooine on an acid trip. It’s a frightening proposition, but for one duo recently sailing in the Pacific Ocean, it became eerie reality when they encountered a slick of volcanic rock the size of Manhattan.
Video of the silvery volcanic rock waves, which comes via Digg, was posted to YouTube by Shannon Lenz. Lenz and Tom Whitehead, who sound like they’re American, were sailing through the Kingdom of Tonga when they came upon the volcanic rock referred to as pumice. Pumice results when super-heated rock under enormous pressure is shot out from an active volcano. Because of how porous it is, pumice is able to float on top of water, sometimes for years.
A look at the pumice raft from space. Image: NASA’s Earth Observatory
Whitehead told BBC News that when they first came upon the pumice, they thought it was whale poop. But they soon realized it was indeed pumice when they saw how vast the plain was and heard the sound it was making. Lenz noted that it sounded like they were in the middle of a cement mixer.
Dr. Martin Jutzeler of the University of Tasmania told BBC News that the pumice came from a submarine volcano about 430 feet below sea level, which, according to the BBC article, erupted near Tonga in early August. Dr. Jutzeler says that the eruption probably lasted for less than a day.
One massive upside to the field of pumice that has the dimensions of about 20,000 football fields side by side, is the fact that it’s carrying many different aquatic species and headed for Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. Once it makes contact, the field of pumice could help to repopulate the Great Barrier Reef with new marine life. Although Dr. Jutzeler warned that some “pests” could also be catching a ride on the pumice raft, which could be harmful to the reef’s ecosystem. Still though, on the whole this super-eerie pulsing rock sheet in the middle of the ocean seems to be a net gain for the environment!
Do you have any thoughts on this gargantuan pumice field in the middle of the ocean? How do you think it’ll affect Australia’s Great Barrier Reef? Let us know in the comments!
Images: Shannon Lenz