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Images: Robot Paints Stunning Map of Deep-sea Volcano

The deep-sea robot ABE (Autonomous Benthic Explorer) created this map of the active underwater Brothers Volcano. (See fly-through movies below.) This view looks from the south into the crater at the summit of the volcano, the site of recent eruptions and ongoing hydrothermal venting. The caldera has two volcanic cones, the smooth one in the left foreground rises about 350 meters (1,150 feet) above the caldera floor to a depth of about 1,100 meters (3,600 feet) below sea surface. A smaller cone to the right, which is probably older but still has an intense hydrothermal system at its summit. (Image courtesy of New Zealand American Submarine Ring of Fire 2007 Exploration, NOAA Vents Program, NOAA-OE.)

A close-up view of the northwestern wall of Brothers volcano shows ampitheater-sized slumps of old rock that have slid toward the seafloor. The 2-meter-resolution imagery taken by ABE (in the foreground) is overlaid on 25-meter-resolution imagery taken by the ship-based EM300 sonar. (Image created by the NOAA Vents Program.)

Andy Billings, an engineer from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, makes final checks on the ABE autonomous vehicle before its first dive at Brothers volcano. (Photo courtesy of New Zealand American Submarine Ring of Fire 2007 Exploration, NOAA Vents Program)

The New Zealand American Submarine Ring of Fire 2007 expedition aboard the research vessel Sonne targeted the Brothers Submarine Volcano and the Ngatoro Rift Basins, north of New Zealand.Bathymetry data are: satellite-derived (bottom, 3500-meter resolution); EM300 (top, along the arc, 30-meter resolution). Plate tectonic features are also indicated. (Image courtesy of satellite-derived bathymetry from Sandwell and Smith, EM300 bathymetry data courtesy of Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory, the Institute of Geological & Nuclear Sciences, NOAA Vents Program and NOAA-OE.)

In a collision of tectonic plates, the Pacific Plate is being subducted beneath the Australian Plate, bringing along oceanic crust and a thin veneer of pelagic sediment. Behind the subduction zone, the crust of the Australian Plate is extended, forming backarc basins. At certain depths, usually around 200 kilometers (about 100 nautical miles), subducted materials melt, producing magmas that rise buoyantly to pond in the overlying mantle wedge and periodically erupt on Earth's surface as lavas, forming arc volcanoes. (Illutration courtesy of Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences Ltd.)

Dana Yoerger developed the Autonomous Benthic Explorer with Al Bradley and now heads the ABE team. Yoerger is a scientist in Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution's Department of Applied Ocean Physics and Engineering. (Photo by Tom Kleindinst, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)