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US geologist discovers 100-million-year old 'pillow lava' in Albay

By Rhaydz B. Barcia

STO. DOMINGO, Albay, April 28 (PNA) — A world-renowned US geologist unearthed an ancient “pillow lava” in a remote village of this town.

This ancient pillow lava, which has a span of one-half kilometer, was ejected on earth during the Cretaceous period and now rests in the seashore of Mirisbiris beach at Salvacion village here, according to Dr. Christopher G. Newhall, known as the "walking encyclopedia on volcanology."

Newhall said that while the dinosaurs lived on the continents of the world, in Albay province, where the world’s perfect cone-shaped Mayon Volcano is located, an eruption under the sea occurred, creating the pillow lava uncovered in Mirisbiris beach some 65 million to 100 million years ago or during the Cretaceous period.

The Cretaceous period marked the end of the age of Dinosaurs with what is known as the Great Extinction era.

It began at the end of the Jurassic period approximately 144 million years ago and extended longer than any period to approximately 65 million years ago.

The period was the last and longest segment of the Mesozoic Era.

It lasted approximately 79 million years, from the minor extinction event that closed the Jurassic period about 145.5 million years ago to the Cretaceous-Paleogene (K-Pg) extinction event dated at 65.5 million years ago, the Wikipedia said.

Newhall discovered the pillow lava in this town recently after they bought pieces of land in Salvacion.

He said the pillow lava was generated through a submarine volcano eruption or plate tectonic movement from depth ocean ridge and spreading ridge before the dinosaur extinction.

"We really don’t know the source if this pillow lava is beneath the sea but one thing sure is that this was shaped during the Cretaceous period or during the Jurassic age (dinosaur age) and the people of this town are unaware of the existence of ancient history that shaped this town,” he said.

Newhall explained that a pillow lava is a volcanic rock characterized by thick sequences of discontinuous pillow-shaped masses that formed a thousand kilometers ridge.

The volcanic action takes place an average of 8,500 feet underwater wherein deep beneath the sea surface there are an estimated one million volcanoes and when the submarine volcano erupts molten lavas are pushed up beneath the sea floor.

He said a pillow lava, once it enters the sea, quenches like a chocolate or due to plate tectonic from oceanic crust (ophiolites) — a sequence of stone uplift in the ocean in spreading ridge that collided in another plate in the Philippines or it could be part of the Libog volcano in Sto. Domingo.

Another possibility is that a submarine volcano might be within the Albay Gulf area but, Newhall said, the island-town of Rapu-Rapu, where mineral resources like gold and silver are mined, was formed through oceanic crust uplift due to compression at the very base of the sequence from the mantle of the earth.

Therefore, Rapu-Rapu island in Albay has a submarine volcano, Newhall said. The scientist explained that melted rock is less dense than solid rock.

Once formed in the deep crust, basalt magma rises, and at the center of the mid-ocean ridge it oozes onto the seafloor, where it rapidly solidifies in the ice-cold water in the form of lava pillows.

Newhall, who greatly helped the Philippine government in untiringly working and sharing his expertise with Phivolcs scientists to develop new concepts to create the Web-linked worldwide network of volcano observatories, which he believes is greatly needed to improve the ability to predict the behavior of the volcanoes, considered as the ticking tectonic time bombs.

Married to Bicolana Glenda Tapel, a registered nurse by profession, Newhall gave up his lucrative job in Seattle, Washington, USA as well as his post at the the USGS and opted to stay in this town to help poor Albayanos.

Newhall, a member of the FUTUREVOLC scientific advisory board and former professor at the Earth Observatory of Singapore after quitting his post in USGS, became the co-creator of the Volcanic Explosivity Index and specializes in volcanic prediction.

He graduated from University of California for his bachelor's and master's degrees in Geology and completed his doctorate at Dartmouth College in 1980. He was an affiliate professor of earth science for 17 years at the University of Washington.

The world-renowned US volcanologist had also worked with the Earth Observatory of Singapore since 2008 before quitting his post completely to dedicate his life in the small village of this town.

He set foot in the Philippines in 1970 as a Peace Corps volunteer in Albay province, where he saw the Mayon Volcano, Bicolandia’s icon, for the first time.

He taught geology while he was volunteering in the Peace Corps at the Aquinas University in Legazpi City, an institution run by Dominican clergies and sister school of the University of Santo Tomas, before working with the US Geological Survey’s Volcano Hazards Team in Seattle as a volcanologist in 1980.

Newhall, whose vital subject for study is Mayon volcano, has also been sending Phivolcs scientists to study abroad to specialize on volcanic science inter-disciplinary.

The Newhalls are currently supporting the education of 11 college scholars from poor families here.

They built the Mirisbiris Garden and Nature Center to promote appreciation of the beauty and value of nature to ensure that the natural resources will still be preserved.

It also promotes eco- and agri-tourism in this town as there are mini farms above the road, including medicinal kitchen herbs, organic vegetables and fruits.

The Mirisbiris Garden and Nature Center was built three years ago exclusively for their friends, scholars and workers but the Newhalls opened it to public for field research and to support their scholars as well as scholarships of students elsewhere.

“Glen and I were volunteers together for 40 years ago and we decided to open Mirisbiris to the public to support scholarships for students from Salvacion and elsewhere. We have been doing this already and we are proud to have helped the students. But we can’t afford to do this alone. Former scholars are already helping new scholars and income from tourists will help greatly,” Glenda said.

“We are not trying to make a profit or even to recover what we’ve spent in building this. We will operate as a non-profit with 100 percent of our income going to scholarships and to operating expenses mainly salaries of local workers,” she added.

This nature center has four parts of garden but the uniqueness of the area is that the forest has been mostly left in its natural state with some tree planting mostly native, but there are now rare species such as yakal, sambulawan, katmon, mapilig, hamurawon (molave).

It has a nice pebble-covered beach with a coral reef offshore that, while damaged by silt, is still reasonably in good health and will be of great interest to those who have never really seen a coral reef and the fishes that live there.

“Sometimes people who live sa bulod (rural areas) don’t realize how wonderful it is and how many others in the world will pay to come experience a well-presented rural setting. We built Mirisbiris Garden and Nature Center to promote appreciation of the beauty of nature so in this way we can ensure that this beauty and resource of the earth and will still be here for our children, grandchildren and many generations to come,” Newhall said. (PNA)

LGI/RCK/FGS/RBB/CBD

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