The largest volcano on Earth – and it’s the size of the UK!

Scientists have recently identified the largest volcano on Earth – the Tamu Massif, which is covers the same area as the whole of the British Isles. The Tamu Massif, named after the Texas A &M’s University is the largest shield volcano on Earth, and is located within the Shatksy Rise, a large underwater mountain range around 1000 miles east of Japan and several miles beneath the surface of the Ocean.

Although the Tamu Massif has been studied for over 20 years, scientists were unsure whether the volcano was a single vent or a larger composite group of volcanoes. Recent geophysical studies, reported in Nature Geosciences, combining core samples and seismic reflection data confirmed that the 120, 000 square miles of basalt observed originated from a single central source.  Although extinct now, the Tamu Massif is around 140 Million years old and is 50 times the size of Earth’s largest active volcano – Mauna Loa.

The Tamu Massif is unusual in terms of its shape as well as its size. The topography is low and broad compared to most other seamounts (underwater volcanoes) which means that the erupted lavas travelled relatively long distances underwater.

The study of underwater volcanoes can be challenging, and there may even be larger single volcanoes on the Earth, but the Tamu Massif is comparable to other large volcanoes within the solar system – Mars’ Olympus Mons is only around 25 % larger than the Tamu Massif (by volume). These developments will provide important information about how the interior of the Earth works.

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About Helen Ashcroft

Helen is studying for her DPhil in Earth Sciences.