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Scientists discover new type of ancient rock deep beneath the ocean

It's a basalt unlike any other.

This microscopic view shows a cross section of the newly discovered basalt.
EXP 351 Science Team

There may be nothing new under the sun, but scientists found something new under the ocean: a previously unknown type of basalt. Basalt is a common volcanic rock, but the specimen researchers pulled up from the depths was something different.

A team of researchers drilled into the floor of the Pacific Ocean at a depth of 3.7 miles (6 kilometers) in a spot southwest of Japan. They extracted samples from nearly a mile (1.5 kilometers) into the floor and found a basalt with a unique chemical and mineral composition.

"The rocks that we recovered are distinctly different to rocks of this type that we already know about. In fact, they may be as different to Earth's known ocean floor basalts as Earth's basalts are to the moon's basalts," said researcher Ivan Savov in a Leeds University statement on Monday. Savov is a co-author of a study on the basalt published in the journal Nature Communications

The Ring of Fire is a belt of volcanoes running along the Pacific Ocean. 

US Geological Survey

The newly discovered type of basalt comes from the early age of the Ring of Fire, an area along the Pacific that's known for active volcanoes and earthquakes. Many famous volcanoes, including Krakatoa and Mount St. Helens, are part of the ring. Scientists suspect the volcano belt first came to life at least 50 million years ago. 

"The discovery suggests that ocean floor eruptions sourced in the Earth's mantle were even hotter and more voluminous than previously thought," Leeds said.

The basalt had remained hidden under layers of ocean sediment and it required an ambitious research vessel, the Joides Resolution and its special drilling rig, to reach the samples.  

The basalt could lead scientists to new understandings of rock formation and the dramatic volcanic history that took place on the ocean floor. 

The Ring of Fire remains a hot spot for the Earth's volcanoes and is even responsible for creating new islands from undersea eruptions. 

Said Savov, "In an era when we rightly admire discoveries made through space exploration, our findings show there are still many discoveries still to make on our own planet."