Daikoku Sulfur Cauldron

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Daikoku Sulphur Cauldron at the moment of discovery, Northern Marianas
Daikoku Sulphur Cauldron at the moment of discovery / screenshot from NOAA video / public domain.
Earlier people thought that lakes of liquid sulfur are found only in outer space, not on Earth. But some are known also on Earth – in deep seas some were discovered in 2005 – 2006. The most impressive of these sulfur lakes is Daikoku Sulfur Cauldron.

Discovery

In the remote area between Northern Mariana Islands and Bonin Islands are quite many active undersea volcanoes. These volcanoes provide much information about the geology of the subduction zone – area where oceanic crust dives deeper in the entrails of the Earth.

In 2004 scientists discovered one more of these volcanoes and it was named Daikoku Seamount. Word “Daikoku” was given by Japanese fishermen for this fishing area. Summit of this volcano is 323 m below the surface of the sea.

In May 2006 the scientists on research vessel "Melville" (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency (NOAA)) with the help of a robot – submersible Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) "Jason" – noticed a weird, black spot in a crater north from the tallest summit of Daikoku volcano. As they dropped an anchor chain on the weird spot, it dived in it. This turned out to be a "lake" of liquid sulfur which was covered with a black coating.

Several further scientific expeditions researched this weird crater lake as well. NOAA mission "Submarine Ring of Fire 2014 – Ironman" in 2014 registered an ongoing eruption – rising plume from the summit (in 2006 there was only geothermal activity). Scientists found new craters as well.

Black coating over the liquid sulphur, Daikoku Sulphur Cauldron in Northern Marianas
Black coating over the liquid sulphur / Submarine Ring of Fire 2006 Expedition, NOAA Vents Program / public domain.

This lake is one of openings of Daikoku volcano and we do not know whether it will exist for long. But it may still exist: oceanologists reported emanations of liquid sulfur from it in December 2016 (2).

Description

Sulfur Cauldron is located at the depth of some 420 m and is approximately 4.5 by 3 m large – thus it is not exactly a "lake". This pool of sulfur is covered with black, elastic crust and the rising gases (carbon dioxide, hydrogen) are moving the crust: it is continuously billowing. These gases look similar to a smoke (but under the water!).

Fish which loves liquid sulfur

Flatfish Symphurus thermophilus, Daikoku Seamount
Flatfish Symphurus thermophilus, Daikoku Seamount / Submarine Ring of Fire 2006 Expedition, NOAA/PMEL / public domain.

Although this is nearly unique landmark on Earth, here exists a creature which seems to enjoy living near liquid sulphur. This is flatfish Symphurus thermophilus which was described as a new species only in 2010. The largest of these fishes reach 11 cm of length. This fish lives around the summits of several volcanoes in Pacific.

Sulfur rich environment is toxic to most life forms on Earth! But… it seems, this flatfish needs to live in sulfur rich environment. In Daikoku Sulfur Cauldron the fish simply lives ON the black crust of the sulfur lake. The crust is considerably cooler than the sulfur below it – but nevertheless this is quite hot place for life! Fish here lives in incredible density – in Daikoku have been counted 392 flatfishes per square meter! These weird creatures have developed ability to survive in extreme acidity (pH – up to 2.0), in high temperature and toxic environment rich with hydrogen sulfide. Although the fish feeds on shrimps, it is possible that they have developed ability to consume chemosynthetic bacteria.

Around the Sulfur Cauldron live also other organisms – tubeworms, crabs, snails.

Is this lake unique?

Scientists knew about such lakes of liquid sulfur earlier – but really far away. Such lakes of liquid sulfur are on Io – moon of Jupiter. Thus one can think that Daikoku Seamount is some kind of space oddity. This is not entirely true: there are known some other sulfur lakes on Earth.

On the nearby Nikko Seamount (Japan) a smaller sulfur lake was discovered some months earlier – in November 2005. It is possible though that in Nikko there are bigger lakes of molten sulphur than in Daikoku. There has been discovered also the evidence of older sulfur lakes in Macauley Cone (Kermadec Arc) (3).

We know about some lakes of liquid sulfur above the sea level as well: in 1989 there existed short lived lakes of molten sulfur in Poás volcano (Costa Rica).

Nevertheless Daikoku Sulfur Cauldron is the most impressive lake of liquid sulfur known to us.

References

  1. Bob Embley. Discovery of the Sulfur Cauldron at Daikoku Volcano: A Window into an Active Volcano. NOAA website, accessed in May 6, 2017.
  2. Thom Hoffman. Daikoku Dive 2: Sulphur So Good. Schmidt Ocean Institute website, accessed in May 6, 2017.
  3. C. E. J. de Ronde, W. W. ChadwickJr, R. G. Ditchburn, R. W. Embley, V. Tunnicliffe, E. T. Baker, S. L. Walker, V. L. Ferrini, S. M. Merle. Molten Sulfur Lakes of Intraoceanic Arc Volcanoes. Advances in Volcanology, pp 261 – 288.

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Daikoku Sulfur Cauldron 21.324317, 144.193789   Daikoku Sulfur Cauldron
Coordinates: 21.3243 N 144.1938 E
Categories: Volcanoes, Lakes and streams, Ecosystems, Animal colonies
Values: Geology, Biology
Rating: (4 / 5)
Address: Australia and Oceania, Micronesia, Northern Mariana Islands, Northern Island Municipality, some 155 km NNW from Farallon de Pajaros island, crater of Daikoku volcano (submarine) to the north from the summit, at the depth of some 420 m
Temperature of liquid: 187° C

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