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VIDEO: One of Australia's two active volcanoes blows its top

Big Ben erupting. Image: Pete Harmsen

The research ship Investigator has taken rare footage at remote sub-Antarctic Heard Island of an eruption at one of Australia’s only two active volcanoes.

The Big Ben volcano, which includes the 2,745m Mawson Peak, the highest mountain on Australian territory north of Antarctica, is known to have erupted at least three other times since 2000 but it has rarely been captured on film.

RV Investigator is circling the islands on the Kerguelen Plateau as part of a voyage led by the University of Tasmania’s Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies to study the link between active volcanoes on the seafloor and the mobilisation of iron which enriches and supports life in the Southern Ocean.

Here’s what the Australian expedition saw:

Geophysicist Mike Coffin, the voyage’s chief scientist, says the eruption is a surprising but welcome bonus.

“Seeing vapour emanating from both of Australia’s active volcanoes and witnessing an eruption at Mawson Peak have been an amazing coda to this week’s submarine research,” says Professor Coffin.

Jodi Fox, who is doing a PhD on Heard Island volcanism at the University of Tasmania, says she saw lava flowing down the flank of Big Ben and over a glacier.

“Given persistent cloud cover and generally foul weather, I didn’t think we’d even see Mawson Peak on this voyage,” she says.

RV Investigator in the Southern Ocean. Image: Pete Harmsen

Although only three weeks into their 58-day voyage, scientists on board Investigator have already identified more than 50 potential underwater hydrothermal plumes using shipboard sonar systems that image the seafloor and water column.

The remote Australian Territory of Heard Island and McDonald Islands is 4,100km south-west of Perth and 1,750km north of Australia’s base at Davis Station in Antarctica.

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