Science Articles for Kids
Tamu Massif, A Giant Volcano

Science Articles for Kids

The largest volcano on Earth is quietly sitting on the ocean floor 16,000 kilometers (1000 miles) off the coast of Japan. The giant volcano has been known to exist for some time but scientists did not know if it was a single volcano or a complex of volcanoes similar to the Big Island of Hawaii made up of five coalescing volcanoes.

Mauna Loa is one of the five volcanoes and is now the largest active volcano on the surface of the Earth. Tamu Massif even rivals the size of Olympus Mons on Mars. Olympus Mons is the largest known volcano in our solar system.

Brown’s Mountain is a small shield volcano in central Oregon, Photo by Myrna Martin

Brown’s Mountain is a shield volcano 
central Oregon Photo by Myrna Martin

The volcano was named by William Sager and his team of researchers when they explored the volcano about 20 years ago. They named it Tamu, which is the abbreviation for Texas A&M University, where Sager was a professor at the time. Massif is a geological term for large mountain mass and the French word for massive.

The volcano formed on the seafloor in the Pacific Ocean above a single magma chamber. The molten rock, magma, formed in the upper mantle that fed the volcano during its life cycle. Huge quantities of molten rock would flow out of the volcano’s vent and spread out as thin layers of molten rock that formed a dome shaped volcano similar to a warrior’s shield. The sloping sides are so gradual that if the volcano was on land would almost seem flat when you walked on its slopes.

The base of the volcano is about the same size as the state of New Mexico or the British Isles. The base is 450 by 650 kilometers across. This is known as a volcano’s footprint. The volcano rises only 4 kilometers above the ocean floor. Tamu Massif is a shield volcano. Shield volcanoes form when basalt from the upper mantle forms in a magma chamber creating a large volcano with gentle sloping sides that resembles a warrior’s shield.

The low rounded dome of the volcano probably never reached the surface of the Pacific Ocean to form an island. Core samples taken by the researchers found lava sheets covering the flanks of the volcano were up to 23 meters thick. Researchers believe the volcano formed between 130 and 145 million years ago. The volcano is part of the Shatsky Rise formation about 1609 kilometers east of Japan. It covers 311,000 square kilometers of the seafloor. It is the largest single shield volcano found on our planet and one of the largest in our solar system.

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