Scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Friday that they believe an undersea volcano has been erupting in the Pacific 130 miles off the California-Oregon border since Tuesday.
A research vessel, the New Horizon, belonging to the Scripps Institution, was dispatched at noon Friday from San Diego and should be at the site by Tuesday. So far, about 2,000 tremors have been recorded in the area.
Chris Fox, an oceanographer at NOAA's Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in Newport, Ore., said it is reasonable to conclude that lava has flowed onto the sea floor on the Gorda tectonic ridge about two miles below the ocean's surface.
"The seismicity is very distinctive," Fox said. "Magma is moving. When researchers reach the scene they should be able to observe some 'megaplumes,' gigantic bursts of hot, mineral-rich water that are spewed out of underwater eruptions."
He added that NOAA is trying to obtain an underwater camera system that will be lowered to show lava spreading on the ocean floor.
There apparently is no danger to residents in the nearest coastal communities of Brookings, Ore., and Crescent City, Calif., Fox said.
"The activity is right on the Gorda ridge, a sea floor volcanic spreading center where the ocean crusts form," Fox said.
Since the Navy made its sound surveillance system for detecting submarine movements available to NOAA in 1990, at the end of the Cold War, three eruptions have been detected in the Pacific Northwest and Northern California, Fox said.