Kīlauea lava fuels phytoplankton bloom in the North Pacific Ocean

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Science  06 Sep 2019:
Vol. 365, Issue 6457, pp. 1040-1044
DOI: 10.1126/science.aax4767

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Ocean greening off Hawai'i

From June to August 2018, the eruption of Kīlauea volcano triggered a diatom-dominated phytoplankton bloom. Wilson et al. set sail to sample the plume, deploying subsea gliders and using satellite monitoring to measure the dynamics of this rare event in the nutrient-poor Pacific (see the Perspective by Ducklow and Plank). They found subsurface chlorophyll maxima not visible by remote sensing, performed transcriptome and N isotope marker analysis, and measured nutrients, partitioning of biomass into different organisms, and primary production. Much of the data are corroborated by physical modeling of the ocean dynamics. The authors conclude that the plume was fed by the lava heating subsurface water and triggering upwelling of deepwater nutrients to the surface rather than by direct injection of micronutrients from lava.

Science, this issue p. 1040; see also p. 978


From June to August 2018, the eruption of Kīlauea volcano on the island of Hawai‘i injected millions of cubic meters of molten lava into the nutrient-poor waters of the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre. The lava-impacted seawater was characterized by high concentrations of metals and nutrients that stimulated phytoplankton growth, resulting in an extensive plume of chlorophyll a that was detectable by satellite. Chemical and molecular evidence revealed that this biological response hinged on unexpectedly high concentrations of nitrate, despite the negligible quantities of nitrogen in basaltic lava. We hypothesize that the high nitrate was caused by buoyant plumes of nutrient-rich deep waters created by the substantial input of lava into the ocean. This large-scale ocean fertilization was therefore a unique perturbation event that revealed how marine ecosystems respond to exogenous inputs of nutrients.

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