by Brendan

The other day I found some satellite images from NASA’s Earth Observatory that appear to show current volcanic activity at Mawson Peak on Heard Island, an Australian island in the subantarctic Southern Island. The image below was captured by the Earth Observing 1 satellite, on October 13, and it is thought that an eruption happened about an hours before the image was taken.

Heard Island, along with it’s neighbour McDonald Island are the site of the only currently active volcanoes in Australia, as well as the only active volcanoes on any subantarctic islands. Heard Island lies on the Kerguelen Plateau, a very large submarine province of igneous volcanism that sits well above the surrounding sea floor and is large enough to disrupt some parts of the Antarctic circumpolar current.

Mt Schank, South Australia – crater wall looking from just inside the rim on the opposite side, Monash University Volcanology Field Trip 2007. (image: Brendan Hanger)

Although there is no current volcanism on the Australian Mainland, we don’t have to travel far back into history to find volcanic eruptions. The most recent were at Mt Schank and Mt Gambier, in the far south-east of South Australia, both of which erupted approximately 5000 years ago. They are part of the Newer Volcanics Province which stretches west from near Melbourne across to Mt Gambier and Mt Schank.

Entrance to a lava tube at the Mt Eccles Volcanic Complex, Victoria. Monash University Volcanology Field Trip 2007 (Image: Brendan Hanger)

A number of the local indigenous dreaming stories mention the eruptions and there are many interesting features to be seen including Blue Lake at Mt Gambier, Towerhill near Warnambool as well as lava tubes and xenolith localities (we actually got to find some xenoliths, unlike this year’s trip), which I had the chance to visit both on the last RSES Student Field Trip (2010) and on a third year volcanology field trip with Monash University in 2007.

Mantle xenoliths from Mt Shadwell Quarry, Victoria, RSES Student Field Trip 2010 (image : Huijuan Li)