Student Work: Mae Lubetkin (URI)


Seafloor Map near Socorro Island

In 1993, a submarine volcano (a fully submerged volcano in the ocean) erupted right next to Socorro Island, which is part of the UNESCO world heritage site Revillagigedo Archipelago. No one lives on these islands, so how did news spread about this rarely witnessed occurrence? There is a navy base on the Archipelago and the people there heard an explosion, saw smoke, and wondered what was happening underwater. The lava from this seafloor volcano was full of CO2 and as a result, floated to the surface of the ocean, causing the unusual floating 'lava balloons, explosive sounds, and smoke. There are only four other 'lava-balloon' eruptions known to the world; unique submarine volcanic eruption styles that we know little about. Although an expert was flown into the site for initial investigation, no one had yet explored what happened at the seafloor and asked “how do these eruptions form?”

This is a question that Megan (Mae) Lubetkin hopes to answer. Through her thesis, Mae—who’s currently a Master’s of Science candidate in Geological Oceanography at University of Rhode Island (URI)—aims to determine how the submarine volcanic eruption occurred. In November 2017, she traveled with a group to Socorro Island to search for the eruption site and obtain samples using Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs) and E/V Nautilus, a world-traveling ship where Mae works as a Science and Data Manager. Operating from the Nautilus, the group used ROV Hercules (so called because it has mechanic arms, strobe lights, sample chambers) and seafloor mapping technologies to discover the volcanic vent and collect samples as fragile as “foam made of glass.”

In addition to oceanographic research, Mae loves imaging. She attended RI C-AIM’s MACRO workshop, hosted at the Nature Lab on May 2nd, 2018. After learning about the macropod’s ability to produce visually striking imagery that merges the structural detail seen with a Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) with the color detail obtained with a microscope, Mae took the opportunity to frequent the Nature Lab this summer and photograph her lava samples. The macropod allowed her to “document details in these fragile glass structures that wouldn’t otherwise be possible.” Mae further describes how “using the SEM and general photography is helpful. But the macropod is somewhere in between; it creates beautiful color with extremely high res details that can’t be seen with the human eye.”

Obtaining documentation of the lava at multiple scales will play a crucial role in demonstrating her theory of how the volcanic eruption occurred and the lava’s morphology. Mae shares that “by utilizing what we know about the geochemistry, morphology, the location, and other elements of the research project, [she] will try to come up with a formation hypothesis for this particular eruption style.” It can in turn help her understand under what “temperature, source magma materials, etc. lava samples like these [will] form.”

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