The eruption of Kilauea Volcano last year did not just bring destruction to homes and lands in Hawaii. Findings of a new study also revealed that the lava from the volcano also simulated a massive phytoplankton bloom in the ocean.
Phytoplankton Bloom After Kilauea Volcano Eruption
Three days after the Kilauea eruption, scientists spotted a massive phytoplankton bloom in NASA satellite photos as a green plume of chlorophyll, the green pigment in plants and algae used to convert light into energy, in the ocean.
In a new study published in the journal Science, Sam Wilson from the University of Hawaii (UH) at Manoa and colleagues reported that the green plume had the perfect mix of ingredients that can help algae thrive: high nitrate levels, iron, phosphate, and salicylic acid.
Nitrogen is a plant fertilizer and large amounts of this nutrient caused the algae to bloom explosion that spanned hundreds of miles out into the Pacific Ocean.
How Lava From Kilauea Volcano Simulated Phytoplankton Bloom
Lava does not contain significant amounts of nitrogen, but the researchers found that the high concentration of nitrate was brought to the surface ocean when heat from the large amounts of molten rock flowing into the ocean warmed nutrient-rich deep waters.
This caused the nutrient-rich deep waters to rise up to the surface, where they brought nitrogen and other particles that supported the growth of the algae.
"We hypothesize that the high nitrate was caused by buoyant plumes of nutrient-rich deep waters created by the substantial input of lava into the ocean," the researchers wrote in their study.
The researchers also said that because there was so much lava in the water, the dissolved iron and phosphate combined into particles, making them unavailable for microbes.
"Usually, whenever an algae grows and divides, it gets eaten up right away by other plankton," explained Univerity of Southern California Dornsife post-doctoral researcher Nicholas Hawco, adding that imbalance is the only way to get this bloom.