Basically, yes. We just recently realized there is a volcano here on Earth that is about the same size as the country Poland.
Normally, if you were playing hide and seek with something the size of Poland and you couldn’t find it, you would be the world’s worst hide and seeker. We can be forgiven for not finding this giant volcano, though, because it had a really good hiding place.
The newly crowned “World’s Biggest Volcano” is called Tamu Massif. Here’s a computer-generated image of it:
Though this picture makes Tamu Massif look like it was tie-dyed during a very ambitious summer camp craft program, the real Tamu Massif is not actually that colorful. The colors were added to this image to help us quickly see which parts of Tamu Massif are the highest (the red parts) and which are the lowest (the blue parts).
“Massif” is from a French word that means mountain. “Tamu” sounds like it is a cool word from some other language, but it is actually the initials for Texas A&M University. That is the place where the scientists worked who first realized Tamu Massif was one volcano and then got to name it. Luckily, they did not work at Kentucky Fried Chicken, or it would now be called KFC Massif.
Previously, the volcano thought to be the biggest* on Earth was Mauna Loa on the big island of Hawaii.
Mauna Loa is over 30,000 feet tall from bottom to top. About 16,000 of those feet are underwater, so if you want to hike Mauna Loa from bottom to top, bring your SCUBA gear.
Mauna Loa is big, but it is basically like Chewbacca to Tamu Massif’s Jabba the Hutt. Mauna Loa may be taller than Tamu Massif, but it is a lot skinnier. It's so much skinnier, that you could fit about 33 Mauna Loas into the space that Tamu Massif takes up (I'm not sure if you could fit 33 Chewbaccas into Jabba the Hutt, though).
So how did we not notice this giant volcano until just recently? Is it because we spend too much time walking around staring at smartphones and are no longer paying attention to the giant volcanoes around us? Well, maybe a little, but mainly it's because we actually haven’t explored a lot of of the Earth yet. Most of the Earth is covered by thousands of feet of ocean water (about 71%). We have only had the technology to see what is deep under the ocean for just a few decades now.
Tamu Massif is deep down in the Pacific Ocean. It’s so deep that you could be in a boat right over Tamu Massif and you would not know it was there because there are 6,500 feet of water between you and its summit.
We have actually known about Tamu Massif for a while, but because it is so big, it was assumed that many different volcanoes worked together to create this massive seafloor feature. But new studies of Tamu Massif, including data from cores drilled out of Tamu Massif by the JOIDES Resolution, have provided a lot of evidence that it was all made by just one volcano and therefore is the biggest volcano on Earth.
Not all scientists are convinced that Tamu Massif was made by just one volcano. These scientists may do more studies in the future that show the parts of Tamu Massif were made by more than one volcano. But, that is one of the things that make science so cool. Scientists don’t assume something is right just because someone says it is. They test it for themselves, and either find evidence that makes us even more certain that an answer is the best explanation, or find evidence that the answer isn’t quite right and we need to keep doing research to learn more. Either way, we all get smarter because of the work that scientists do.
PS. Not not only did we just recently find the biggest volcano on Earth, we also may have just found in our own solar system a planet that is ten times the size of Earth! You can learn more about that here.
* “Biggest” meaning most massive. In other words, the volcano that weighs the most and takes up the most space. Mauna Loa is not the tallest volcano on Earth, though. The tallest volcano on Earth is Mauna Loa’s next-door neighbor, Mauna Kea.
To learn more about Tamu Massif and how we discover and research underwater volcanoes, read my free eBook Uncovering Earth’s Secrets.
Online References and Resources:
Geology.com. "Which Volcano is the World's Largest?"
National Geographic. "New Giant Volcano Below Sea Is Largest in the World."
Texas State Aquarium. "The Mystique of Massif."
University of Houston. "Scientists Confirm Existence of Largest Single Volcano on Earth."
Photos and Images:
Click the photos and images used above to find their sources.