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Startling new images from the depths of the Pacific Ocean reveal one of Earth’s most violent processes: the destruction of massive underwater mountains. The pictures were created by sonar in waters up to four miles (6km) deep. They expose how tectonic action is dragging giant volcanoes into a chasm in the seabed. The volcanoes are strung out across several thousand miles of ocean floor and are moving westwards on the Pacific tectonic plate at up to 6cm per year. The extraordinary scene – the geological equivalent of a ‘death march’ – was captured along the Tonga Trench during a research expedition last summer. The trench is a highly active fault line running north from New Zealand towards Tonga and Samoa. Where the Pacific plate collides with the Indo-Australian plate, it is forced downwards into the trench, a subduction zone, and the volcanoes are carried with it. The trench, reaching a depth of 10.9km, forms the second deepest stretch of seabed anywhere in the world – easily large enough to hold Mount Everest. One image shows the volcano nearest the edge of the abyss – the next to be destroyed – already starting to collapse. With frequent earthquakes, the region is vulnerable to tsunamis and one aim of the research is to understand whether the destruction of the volcanoes adds to the risk. One theory is that the volcanoes add friction to the movement of the two plates which leads to a greater build-up of tension and consequently to a more explosive quake. Analysis so far has not determined the precise impact of this process.