• The volcano cluster off Sydney's coast. Photo credit: Marine National Facility (MNF)The volcano cluster off Sydney's coast. Photo credit: Marine National Facility (MNF)

Submerged volcanoes discovered near Sydney

A team of researchers from many Australian universities has discovered a cluster of submerged volcanoes off the coast of Sydney whilst researching something else!

Scientists from UNSW, La Trobe University, the University of British Columbia, the University of Sydney, the University of Auckland, the University of Technology Sydney and Southern Cross University were on-board Australia’s new research vessel, Investigator, searching for the nursery grounds of larval lobsters. 

The new ocean-going research vessel discovered the volcano cluster during a routine mapping of the sea floor. The volcanoes are located in 4,900 metres of water, which is why previous expeditions have not spotted them – the previous research vessel could only map the seafloor to 3,000 metres.

The four extinct volcanoes in the cluster are calderas, which form after a volcano erupts and the land around them collapses, forming a crater. The largest is 1.5 km across the rim and it rises 700 metres from the sea floor. The cluster is likely to be 50 million years old.

The research team did also find what they were looking for – an eddy near Sydney proved to be a hotspot for the lobster larvae, at a time of year when they weren’t expected.

UNSW marine biologist Professor Iain Suthers said: "Investigator is able to send and receive data while we're at sea, which meant the team back on base at UNSW in Sydney could analyse the information we were collecting at sea and send back their analysis, along with satellite imagery, so we could chase the eddies as they formed. This is the first time we've been able to respond directly to the changing dynamics of the ocean. For a biological oceanographer like me, it doesn't get more thrilling.”

"It was astounding to find juvenile commercial fish species like bream and tailor 150 kilometres offshore, as we had thought once they were swept out to sea that was end of them, but in fact these eddies are nursery grounds along the east coast of Australia."

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