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Large warm spot in the Pacific.

Large warm spot in the Pacific

While conducting temperature and salinity measurements off the coast of Oregon in the summer of 1986, oceanographer Edward. T. Baker discovered an unusual warm spot in the ocean. The mere existence of this heated water 500 kilometers from the coast is not what surprised Baker and his colleagues at the Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in Seattle, for they were cruising near a seafloor spreading center where hydrothermal vents are known to be active.

But these observations were unprecedented because the researchers had never seen such high water temperatures extend so far above the ocean floor. This temporary region of warm water, dubbed a "megaplume,' also proved to be abnormally large, measuring 20 km in diameter and 700 meters thick, report the researchers in the Sept. 10 NATURE. Hydrothermal vents are known to create plumes of heated water, but oceanographers have never observed one on such a grand scale before, says Baker.

The researchers reason that the megaplume resulted from "a brief but massive release of high-temperature hydrothermal fluids' over the course of a few days. Scientists had thought that hydrothermal vents flowed at slow, steady rates for periods of months or years, but it now appears that massive venting can also occur episodically, says Baker.

As for the cause of the massive release, Baker speculates that the venting may be related to episodic rifting at the spreading center, where crustal plates pull apart, creating a gap that is filled by molten basalt.
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Publication:Science News
Date:Oct 10, 1987
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