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Supervolcano Megabeds Discovered at Bottom of Sea

Ancient megabeds formed by supervolcanic eruptions
Ancient megabeds formed by supervolcano eruptions. Credit: NASA Earth Observatory / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Researchers have stumbled upon massive “megabeds” linked to ancient supervolcanoes at the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea. These colossal underwater deposits hint at a recurring pattern of disastrous events occurring every ten to fifteen thousand years in the region.

Megabeds are gigantic layers of ocean floor materials, created by major happenings such as volcanic eruptions. Scientists made this discovery while examining deposits in the Tyrrhenian Sea near Italy’s coast. This was close to a large underwater volcano.

Earlier studies, utilizing sediment cores and imaging, hinted at something mysterious under the sea, but pictures weren’t clear enough to reveal these megabeds, said Derek Sawyer, the lead researcher and an Earth sciences associate professor at Ohio State University.

The research team revisited the underwater site

In a study published on August 10th in the journal Geology, Derek Sawyer and his team revisited the underwater site to capture clearer images of sediment layers.

What they found were four massive megabeds, each ranging from 33 to 82 feet (10 to 25 meters) thick with distinct layers of sediment between them. The cores drilled from the site revealed that these megabeds were formed from volcanic material.

The oldest megabed dates back about forty thousand years. The next oldest is from thirty-two thousand years ago while the others happened about eighteen thousand and eight thousand years ago.

Details about the megabeds

To determine where these megabeds originated from, researchers investigated the volcanic activity in the region. The area, including the Campi Flegrei supervolcano, is highly active.

The oldest megabed was a result of a massive eruption from Campi Flegrei around thirty-nine thousand years ago. It was one of the largest known eruptions on Earth.

It is possible that the same eruption led to the formation of the second megabed, considering the short 3.2-foot (1 m) gap between them. This indicates a relatively brief time span between the two events.

Neapolitan Yellow Tuff supereruption

Scientists believe the megabed formed around eighteen thousand years ago as a result of the Campi Flegrei Neapolitan Yellow Tuff supereruption. The most recent megabed, on the other hand, was created by a less powerful eruption at Campi Flegrei.

These eruptions occurred about every ten to fifteen thousand years. Researchers are working on refining the exact dates of these eruptions to better comprehend the cycle and potential risks in the future. Derek Sawyer revealed, “It’s not as constrained as we would like it to be.”

The findings from this study will assist scientists in comprehending the potential danger posed by volcanoes in the region. Sawyer emphasized, “That whole field is still active, [and] there’s still a lot of concern about the future of that, so it’s certainly potentially possible that it could happen again.”

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