Nearly the size of the state of New Mexico, scientists have discovered one of the largest volcanoes in the solar system right here on Earth.
Known as Tamu Massif, the summit of this 400-mile-wide giant lies 6,500 feet under the Pacific, with portions of its base in waters nearly four miles deep. From National Geographic:
“It’s not high, but very wide, so the flank slopes are very gradual,” said William Sager, a professor in the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at University of Houston who began researching Tamu Massif two decades ago. “In fact, if you were standing on its flank, you would have trouble telling which way is downhill. We know that it is a single immense volcano constructed from massive lava flows that emanated from the center of the volcano to form a broad, shield-like shape. Before now, we didn’t know this because oceanic plateaus are huge features hidden beneath the sea. They have found a good place to hide.”
Tamu Massif covers an area of about 120,000 square miles. In comparison, the largest active volcano on Earth, Hawaii’s Mauna Loa, covers only 2,000 square miles, Sager says. The largest known volcano in the solar system, Mars’ Olympus Mons, isn’t as wide as Tamu Massif - stretching 370 miles across - but it’s overall mass is approximately 25 per cent larger than Tamu Massif.
Thankfully, our largest volcano long ago went extinct – with scientists estimating the 145 million-year-old giant went inactive a few million years after it was created.