April 17, 2014

World’s Largest Volcano Now Named Tamu Plateau

The world’s largest volcano – all 120,000 square miles of it – is now officially named for Texas A&M University and is called Tamu Plateau, the U.S. Board of Geographic Names (BGN) has announced.

Last year, former Texas A&M oceanographer Will Sager revealed his discovery of an underwater volcano about 1,000 miles off the coast of Japan in a mountain range known as the Shatsky Rise.  He nicknamed the volcano Tamu Massif – Tamu for the abbreviation of Texas A&M while Massif is a French word frequently used to describe a large mountain mass.  The name has been used informally for many years, but last year Sager applied to the BGN for formal acceptance.

a 3-d map of the Tamu Massif formation

A 3-d map of the Tamu Plateau formation. (Photo courtesy of IODP)

In a letter to Sager, now at the University of Houston, the BGN has informed Sager that the area will now be known officially as Tamu Plateau. Its exact coordinates are 32° 34′ 01.3”N, 158° 25’00”E.

“The supporting information for the proposal well documents the dedication of these institutions toward the advancement of both geologic and oceanographic sciences,” notes the BGN, which also refers to two other, smaller plateaus in the same mountain range that have been named for other scientific organizations.

“So it is now called Tamu Plateau and it’s in the record books,” Sager says from Houston.  “When we first studied this mountain in 1994, we had no idea what exactly it was.  After further research, we knew we had found a huge, single volcano – the largest one that we know.”

Tamu Plateau is believed to be about 145 million years old and it became inactive within a few million years after it was formed, Sager says.  Its top lies about 6,500 feet below the ocean surface while much of its base is in waters about four miles deep.

Calculations from Sager’s studies determined Tamu Plateau is about 120,000 square miles in area, or about the size of the state of New Mexico, making it by far the largest ever discovered on Earth. It rivals in size some of the largest volcanoes in the solar system, such as Olympus Mons on Mars.

Olympus Mons, the largest volcano on Mars, is so big that it can be seen with many common backyard telescopes.

The largest active volcano on Earth is Mauna Loa in Hawaii, which has erupted off and on for the past 700,000 years.  But it is about 2,000 square miles in size, a tiny fraction of Tamu Plateau.

“This has been a fun experience for all of us,” Sager adds. “I hope Aggies everywhere enjoy this.”

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Media contact:  Keith Randall, News & Information Services, at (979) 845-4644 or William Sager at (713) 893-0717 or Karen Riedel, College of Geosciences, at (979) 845-0910

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