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Rare Look At Underwater Volcano

An unmanned probe got within feet of a violent underwater eruption in the Pacific Ocean, returning with the clearest footage ever captured of seismic activity under the sea, a team of Japanese and U.S. researchers said.

The footage, released Thursday by the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology, shows gray ash and rock spewing from the underwater NW Rota-1 volcano as it erupted in October.

Lava streams down the volcano, which is 1,800 feet under water in the Mariana Arc volcanic chain, some 60 miles north of the U.S. Pacific territory of Guam.

The Japanese-American research team also collected sediment samples, team leader Yoshihiko Tamura said. The Hyper Dolphin probe went as close as 7-10 feet from the eruption.

"We believe it's the first time anybody has captured quality footage of an underwater eruption from such a close distance," Tamura said.

Analysis of the footage and sediment could help explain how repeated eruptions of underwater volcanos eventually give rise to islands and even continents, Tamura said.

"Further research could shed light on the very fundamentals of how land masses are formed," he said.

Preliminary research findings are reported by Tamura, Robert W. Embley of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and other team members in this week's edition of the journal Nature.

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