A sub-Antarctic volcano has blown its top in front of a fortunate few researchers on an expedition in the Southern Ocean. Big Ben, a conical stratovolcano on a remote piece of Australian territory, has erupted three times since the turn of the millennium, but its eruptions are almost never witnessed, according to The Guardian.
Technically Australia’s second-tallest mountain, Big Ben on Heard Island – 4,100 kilometers (2,548 miles) south of Perth on the mainland – began experiencing minor explosive activity at its summit, Mawson Peak, earlier this week. Lava started flowing down over the peak’s glacial ice-covered slopes, which the team could see from their research ship off its coast.
"We saw vapor being emitted from the top of the volcano,” said Professor Mike Coffin, a geophysicist from the University of Tasmania's Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies and the voyage’s chief scientist, as reported by BBC News. He added that it was “an amazing coda to this week's submarine research.”
The researchers were investigating underwater volcanoes at the time, hoping to find out whether or not they help support life by effusing significant volumes of iron. This iron can be used by phytoplankton blooms, which subsequently fertilize the surrounding ocean with nutrients.