The presence of water can greatly alter the characteristics of a volcanic eruption and the explosions made by these. For instance, the increased thermal conductivity of water causes magma to cool and solidify much more quickly than in a terrestrial eruption, often turning it into a volcanic glass. Below ocean depths of about 2200 metres where the pressure exceeds 218 atmospheres, the critical pressure of water, it can no longer boil; it becomes a supercritical fluid. Without boiling sounds, deep-sea volcanoes are difficult to detect at great distances using hydrophones.
The lava formed by submarine volcanoes is quite different from terrestrial lava. Upon contact with water, a solid crust forms around the lava. Advancing lava flows into this crust, forming what is known as pillow lava.
Scientists still have much to learn about the location and activity of underwater volcanoes. The Kolumbo underwater volcano in the Aegean Sea was discovered in 1650 when it burst from the sea and erupted, killing 70 people on the nearby island of Santorini.
More recently, NOAA's Office of Ocean Exploration has funded missions to explore submarine volcanoes. Most notably, these have been the Ring of Fire missions to the Mariana Arc in the Pacific Ocean. Using Remote Operated Vehicles, scientists studied underwater eruptions, ponds of molten sulfur, black smoker chimneys and even marine life adapted to this deep, hot environment.
Spewing clouds of smoke, ash and steam thousands of feet into the sky, these dramatic images show the raw power of an undersea volcano erupting.
The spectacular columns blasted out of the South Pacific six miles off the coast of Tonga's main island Tongatapu. Tonga, a 170-island archipelago about halfway between Australia and Tahiti, is part of the Pacific 'ring of fire' - an arc of earthquake and volcanic zones stretching from Chile in South America through Alaska and down through Vanuatu to Tonga.
Visible from space: The puff of white is the eruption in Tonga captured by a satellite orbiting Earth