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Kīlauea lava fuels phytoplankton bloom off Hawai‘i Island

Dr. Angela Knapp, Oceanography professor for the Department of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Science at FSU was part of a multiuniversity research team that revealed that this biological response hinged on unexpectedly high concentrations of nitrate, despite the negligible amount of nitrogen in basaltic lava. The research team determined that nitrate was brought to the surface ocean when heat from the substantial input of lava into the ocean warmed nutrient-rich deep waters and caused them to rise up, supplying the sunlit layer with nutrients.

When Kīlauea Volcano erupted in 2018, it injected millions of cubic feet of molten lava into the nutrient-poor waters off the Big Island of Hawai‘i. The lava-impacted seawater contained high concentrations of nutrients that stimulated phytoplankton growth, resulting in an extensive plume of microbes that was detectable by satellite.

A Florida State University researcher was part of a multiuniversity research team that revealed that this biological response hinged on unexpectedly high concentrations of nitrate, despite the negligible amount of nitrogen in basaltic lava. The research team determined that nitrate was brought to the surface ocean when heat from the substantial input of lava into the ocean warmed nutrient-rich deep waters and caused them to rise up, supplying the sunlit layer with nutrients.

Their work was published in Science.

“This is a previously unrecognized process that supplies nutrients to phytoplankton in the ocean,” said Florida State University Associate Professor Angela Knapp, a member of the research team. “Phytoplankton play a role in regulating atmospheric CO2 concentrations. Consequently, their growth helps regulate climate.”

Full article from FSU News HERE