Pumice, the lightweight stone used to smooth skin, is usually found in beauty salons, but on Thursday sailors from New Zealand’s Royal Navy found nearly 10,000 square miles of the lava rock bobbing on the surface of the South Pacific Ocean.
Described by one sailor who witnessed it as “the weirdest thing I’ve seen in 18 years at sea,” the sea of white rock was initially spotted by air and then relayed to a ship for further investigation, according to a statement released by the New Zealand Royal Navy.
Pumice is typically a byproduct of lava that has cooled quickly after a volcanic eruption. The lava forms a rock so lightweight it floats on the water’s surface. Officials reported the floating rock shelf to be 250 nautical miles long by 30 nautical miles wide. A nautical mile is about 6,076 feet.
Sailors said taking their ship directly into the floating pumice to gather samples for research scientists didn’t put the vessel at risk because the rock was so lightweight.
Volcanologist Helen Bostock told New Zealand Royal Navy officials the rock came from an underwater volcanic eruption, and now scientists will work to determine which volcano was responsible. According to scientists who briefed Navy officials, a volcano named Monowai has been active in the region and the pumice could be a result of recent eruptions.
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