The 2011 underwater volcanic eruption near El Hierro in the Canary Islands significantly altered the activity and composition of plankton communities in the surrounding waters, research in Scientific Reports suggests. The study could add to our knowledge of how submarine eruptions can change the chemical properties of seawater and how this might impact the surrounding communities of organisms.
Active submarine volcanoes are a major source of mantle-derived gases, solutes and heat to the ocean and their emission react with sea water, leading to physical-chemical anomalies that may impact the marine ecosystem. But the impacts of short-term submarine volcanic activity on the surrounding biota, especially plankton communities, are poorly understood.
Eugenio Fraile-Nuez and colleagues evaluated the extreme physical-chemical perturbations caused by the underwater eruption in October 2011 at El Hierro, one of the richest and most sensitive marine ecosystems in the subtropical northeast Atlantic Ocean. They found that the event led to warming, water acidification and deoxygenation. These processes, which are also the main stressors of global climate change, resulted in significant changes to local marine communities. No fish schools were detected within the affected area and many dead fish were observed floating at the surface; the activity and structure of plankton communities were also affected. The results could improve our understanding of how future climate change may affect marine organisms.