“From the surface, you wouldn’t suspect anything. Yet the underwater volcanoes of Panarea are one of the most striking landscapes I have ever seen. We are at the same time enveloped by the infinite silence of the ocean and in the middle of a Dante-esque spectacle of volcanic chimneys that spit out gases and burning fluids, a bit like being at the gates of hell. You realize that the Earth is alive,” said Alexis Rosenfeld, 1 Ocean-UNESCO Explorer, photographer, documentary film-maker in a press release.
Rosenfeld led the UNESCO – 1 Ocean exploration mission in the Mediterranean, in the Aeolian Islands archipelago in order to study the activities of underwater volcanoes. UNESCO currently leads the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021 – 2030), and part of its goal is to help at-risk coastal communities all over the world to be “Tsunami Ready”.
They have already successfully trained forty communities in 21 countries in the Pacific, Caribbean, and Indian Ocean regions. In this particular exploratory mission in the Mediterranean, the team examined the underwater volcanoes off the Aeolian Islands — a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Experts have been closely monitoring this archipelago off the northern coast of Sicily due to signs of an impending volcanic eruption.
“We estimate that, according to a natural cycle, there is a major explosion in this area every 70 years,” said Francesco Italiano, head of the Palermo section of the Italian Istituto Nazionale di Geofisica e Vulcanologia (INGV). “The last one took place at the end of the 1930s. [In the event of an explosion] one of the risks is the formation of a tsunami. This is a phenomenon that moves at very high speed, at least 300 km/h. It could therefore hit the islands in a few minutes, which means that we have to react very quickly.”
Rosenfeld and his team explored the underwater crater off Panarea island — the smallest island in the archipelago — where they captured on camera intriguing images of gas eruptions originating from the volcano’s magma chamber. According to UNESCO, there are areas in the caldera that release more than a million liters of gas per day.
Diving deeper, at more than 70 meters, the team encountered a place that is called the Smoking Land. There, they saw a multitude of hydrothermal vents spewing extremely hot, acidic fluids.
The images and data gathered by the team would be useful in UNESCO’s assessment of tsunami risk in the area. The organization has already established the Pacific Tsunami Warning System (PTWS) with three more similar systems in the Caribbean (CTWS), the Indian Ocean (ICTWS), and the Northeast Atlantic and the Mediterranean (NEAMTWS).
But they acknowledged that these systems might not be enough since tsunamis caused by underwater volcanic eruptions and landslides may be different from those generated by earthquakes. A new warning system may be needed for non-seismic-generated tsunamis, according to UNESCO tsunami specialist Bernardo Aliaga.
Hence, UNESCO is dedicated to training all at-risk coastal communities for this threat through its new global program, “Tsunami Ready.”
Underwater hydrothermal vents spew acidic fluids and bubbles in a series of stunning photographs captured at Panarea, a volcanic island near Sicily, Italyhttps://t.co/ymptYWzLmH pic.twitter.com/uyUkr7oBmk
— New Scientist (@newscientist) June 16, 2022