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‘The ocean is on fire again’: mud volcano explodes, lighting up the Caspian Sea

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On July 4, an explosion shook the Caspian Sea, off the coast of Azerbaijan.

Gavriil Grigorov / TASS via Getty

An explosive blast of fire, believed to have been caused by a mud volcano, lit up the Caspian Sea on Sunday. according to an APA report, to the Azerbaijani press agency. The fire occurred about 6 miles from the Umid gas field, south of Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan.

The State Petroleum Company of the Republic of Azerbaijan (SOCAR) told APA that none of its oil rigs were affected by the incident. No injuries have been reported.

“There have been no accidents at offshore platforms and industrial facilities under the direct control of SOCAR, and work continues as normal,” said Ibrahim Ahmadov, deputy director of SOCAR’s public relations and events department. talking to the APA.

It is the second time in two days that a fiery water incident has been detailed. On July 2 An underwater pipeline with a gas leak in the Gulf of Mexico set the ocean surface on fire sending social media spiraling with proclamations that “the ocean is on fire.” On Sunday, “the ocean is on fire again” echoed throughout the Twittersphere. (The Caspian Sea is an inland sea, so … okay, let’s not go into it.)

This explosion appears to be natural. Speaking to the APA, Azerbaijani seismologist Gurban Yetirmishli suggests that the fire is indicative of a mud volcano. This would not be a surprise: the region is home to hundreds of mud volcanoes.

“Azerbaijan has basically the perfect geological conditions for mud volcanoes,” said Mark Tingay, a geophysicist at the University of Adelaide in Australia, who has meticulously recorded the locations of mud volcanoes around the world.

What his more familiar cousins, full of lavaMud volcanoes sometimes erupt. But what are they and how can they catch fire?

What is a mud volcano?

A mud volcano is exactly as the name suggests: a volcano that erupts with muddy fluids, rather than lava. That means they are not exactly true volcanoes (but let’s not get into that debate).

They are caused by water that is heated deep in the earth and mixes with rocks and minerals to create a slurry that is then forced to the surface through fissures or cracks. Tingay explains in a full Twitter thread from 2019 They can range from being “cute little features” that are only a few inches wide to “huge things that are several hundred feet high and miles wide.”

If they are near something like an oil field, they may be “hooked up” to the oil and natural gas systems. When they erupt, oil and gas, flammable substances, are thrown into the sky with the mud. It’s unclear exactly how they might ignite, but pressure change or sparks in the mud caused by rocks colliding with each other during an eruption could explain the fireballs, Tingay says.

Tingay analyzed the explosion of the Caspian Sea and he speculated, based on some of the images, that it could be a mud volcano known as the Makarov Bank. That would have been interesting: In 1958, this mud volcano exploded and launched a fireball 500 meters into the sky.

But based on a more detailed analysis, Tingay also specified about two other potential candidates that are near the Umid oil field. Both were aligned with video images and thermal anomalies detected by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration: the Ignatiy Stone Bank mud volcano (also known as Dashly Island) and the Kumany Bank mud volcano.

On Monday morning, the confirmation came in the form of a flyby:

A ship was dispatched to the site to investigate and Ahmadov of SOCAR says “the public will be informed as soon as there is additional information.”

Update July 5: Add confirmation about the mud volcano on Dashly Island

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