From: Andrew O. Selsky, Associated Press
Published August 13, 2007 10:20 AM

Mud Volcano Thrusts up from the Sea, Drawing Sightseers and a Sense of Foreboding

MAYARO, Trinidad -- It is growing under the sea off Trinidad -- a mud volcano that fills people who live nearby with foreboding and may soon emerge as the world's newest island.


Since it was discovered in May by a pair of spearfishermen 5 miles off Trinidad's eastern shore, the mud volcano has attracted hordes of sightseers who trek to a bluff to watch waves crash over its summit, which measures 160 feet across.


If it does become an island, don't plan on ever spending your holiday on it: It would be a muddy, wave-lashed piece of ground that could slip back underneath the sea at any moment.


Graham Scott, 37, was spearfishing in May in a favored spot with a friend when he discovered the mud volcano, then only 5 feet high.


"It was strange," Scott recalled in a telephone interview. "The mud was soft. Soft like clay."


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Since then, it has ballooned to a height of some 40 feet, reaching to just below the ocean's surface, with a base 490 feet across.


The waters around it are so turbulent that Trinidad's Office of Disaster Preparedness and Management has warned boaters to stay away. Rugged fishermen, some of whom seem a bit spooked, need no prompting. Few tourists venture out in boats, preferring to gaze at the waters over the mud volcano from the safety of shore.


Fisherman Bert Peter is one of a number of locals who consider the mud volcano a bad omen.


On a recent afternoon, standing amid a tangle of fishing nets, Peter steered a skiff from the palm-fringed shore of the nearby village of Mayaro as rain squalls blew past. After 15 minutes, he closed in on the mud volcano and watched as waves broke over the summit, which had snagged a long strand of seaweed.


"It's a sign of the times. Revelations," Peter murmured, referring to the New Testament's apocalyptic Book of Revelation. He didn't care to elaborate, and instead stared down at his leathery feet.


On shore, there is also disquiet.


"It may grow, and grow, and grow until some day it blows up," said Jude Neckles, who can see the site from the front porch of his house in Mayaro.


Scientists say that's unlikely.


Mud volcanoes are not normal volcanoes, which erupt lava and superheated gases from deep within the earth, said Roderick Stewart, a seismologist at the University of the West Indies in Trinidad. Rather, they are created when natural gases, often methane, escape pressurized areas from shallower levels in the crust.


"There is little heat and energy behind it," Stewart said in a telephone interview. "There's no lava. There's no magma."


Disaster officials insist the new mud volcano poses no threat to people on land. Mud volcanoes are a common phenomenon on and around the twin-island nation of Trinidad and Tobago -- the world's fifth-largest exporter of liquefied natural gas.


In 1997, one did erupt in the south-central village of Piparo, burying cars and homes under a square mile of mud that quickly hardened into a concrete-like clay. No one was killed. Mud volcanoes also formed temporary islands off Trinidad in 1964 and 2001.


This new one might not even rise above the sea surface, Stewart said, because the waves keep eroding the newly belched mud.


Source: Associated Press


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