PMEL Earth-Ocean Interactions Program logo National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory Earth-Ocean Interactions Program
Axial Seamount location

Axial Seamount

Axial Seamount is an active submarine volcano on the Juan de Fuca Ridge in the NE Pacific. It rises to a depth of 1400 m below sea level and is located approximately 300 miles off the coast of Oregon. Axial Seamount was the site of the world's first underwater volcano observatory called NeMO and has erupted most recently in 1998 and 2011. Because it is so active, Axial has been chosen as a key node on the new cabled observatory, which is part of the National Science Foundation’s Ocean Observatory Initiative (OOI). Axial continues to be the focus of long-term time-series studies of the interactions between geology, chemistry, and biology on a dynamic part of the mid-ocean ridge system using state-of the art technology.
See the Axial Blog to follow our attempts to forecast when it will erupt next.

 

Axial Seamount 3D bathymetry image sampling fluid at hydrothermal vent Buried instrument in lava flow.
3D image of Axial Seamount bathymetry. ROV Jason sampling a hydrothermal vent inside Axial's caldera. Ocean Bottom Hydrophone (OBH) buried by the recent lava flow.


2013 Expedition

Axial perspecitve map
Pressure instrument recording the inflation of the caldera.

Rapid reinflation found at Axial Seamount

During an expedition to Axial Seamount in September 2013, EOI scientists discovered that the inflation rate since the 2011 eruption was higher than expected, totaling 1.57 m of reinflation since the April 2011 eruption. This is an average uplift rate of 61 cm/yr, much higher than the 15 cm/yr seen during most of the period between the 1998 and 2011 eruptions. Overall, this means that Axial has already recovered 65% of the -2.4 m of deflation that was measured during the 2011 eruption. If this high inflation rate continues, Axial will be back to its pre-2011 level of inflation by January 2015, or if the rate of inflation slows down to rates more like those between 1998-2011, then the pre-2011 level of inflation will not be reached until ~2018. This means that Axial’s next eruption could occur sooner than expected. These results show the importance of continued monitoring at Axial, because it is still providing new insights and surprises.

More information, images, and video clips are available at the Axial2013 cruise web site.

Axial 2013 cruise report available: with dive logs (pdf 13MB) or without dive logs (pdf 5.7MB).

2012 Expedition and publication of papers about the 2011 eruption

Axial perspecitve map
Sampling the fluid from Hell vent at Axial.

Precursors to Eruption at Axial Seamount Found

Three papers published in the journal Nature Geoscience present recent results about the 2011 eruption at Axial Seamount, authored or co-authored by EOI scientists. One paper describes the inflation/deflation cycle of the volcano leading up to and during the eruption. A second paper reports on the pattern of earthquakes before and during the eruption recorded by ocean bottom hydrophones. The third paper by colleagues at MBARI reveals the 2011 lava flows in remarkable detail, based on comparison of high-resolution mapping before and after the eruption. The journal also published a "News and Views" article describing the significance of the three papers.

 

Both the inflation and hydrophone recordings showed long-term and short-term precursors to the 2011 eruption that could be used to forecast future eruptions at Axial Seamount. This is particularly important because Axial will soon be the site of a cabled observatory, as part of NSF's Ocean Observatories Initiative, that will make real-time monitoring of the volcano possible for the first time. NOAA EOI scientist have designed and built some of the instruments that will be connected to the cable at Axial.

 

Axial 2012 cruise report (pdf)

 

Oregon State University Press Release about Nature Geoscience papers about the 2011 eruption (June 10, 2012)
NOAA Research News: "Underwater 'ears heard rumblings before 2011 undersea volcano eruption (June 11, 2012)

2011 Expedition

Bill Chadwick and ROV JASON  

Bill Chadwick stands next to the remotely operated vehicle Jason on the deck of the research vessel Atlantis after the dive that discovered the new lava flow on the seafloor at Axial Seamount.

(Photo credit: Scott Nooner, Columbia University)
 

Eruption Discovered at Axial Seamount
NOAA EOI Program scientists discovered a newly erupted lava flow at Axial Seamount.

Dr. Bill Chadwick, an Oregon State University scientist with the Cooperative Institute for Marine Resource Studies along with Dr. Dave Butterfield, a University of Washington scientist with the Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and Oceans, made the discovery aboard the R/V Atlantis with the Jason remotely operated vehicle (ROV), on an expedition jointly funded by NOAA and the National Science Foundation.

 

A Jason dive on July 28 discovered the new lava flow, and bottom pressure recording and ocean bottom hydrophone instruments recovered show that the eruption occurred on April 6, 2011. The last eruption at Axial Seamount occurred 13 years ago in 1998. Dr. Chadwick and colleague Scott Nooner from Columbia University had forecast an eruption at Axial Seamount before 2014, based on time-series measurements of volcanic inflation using bottom pressure measurements.  This is the first time that a successful eruption forecast has ever been made for a submarine volcano, and confirms that Axial Seamount is an excellent location for state-of-the-art studies of active submarine volcanic processes and how they impact ocean physical, chemical, and biological environments.

 

The 2011 expedition cruise report is available here (pdf).

Axial Seamount videos:

lava sample new lava under arch OBH chain Boca snow blower
Sampling new lava (22 MB): The manipulator arm on the Jason remotely operated vehicle takes a sample of the new lava flow (upper left) that was erupted in April 2011 and discovered during dives at the site on July 27. The lava sample will be analyzed to determine its chemical composition. (Video credit: Bill Chadwick, Oregon State University, Copyright Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution) New lava flowing under older lava archway (11.6 MB): New lava erupted in April 2011 flows under an archway formed in an older lava flow at Axial Seamount. (Video credit: Bill Chadwick, Oregon State University, Copyright Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution) Instrument chain buried in new lava (12 MB): Chain from an ocean-bottom hydrophone (OBH) instrument mooring is found coming out of the seafloor where the new lava flow buried it in April 2011. The chain is being held up by flotation that is still attached at the top of the mooring. The front of the Jason remotely operated vehicle is visible at right. (Video credit: Bill Chadwick, Oregon State University, Copyright Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution) "Snowblower" vent Boca (9.3 MB)Shimmering hot water exits from this new “snowblower” vent named “Boca” in the new lava flow. The vent looks like a hole lined with white (created by microbes thriving in the hot springs). Snowblower vents are only seen right after eruptions are named for the white particles that spew out of the seafloor, and are evidence of a vast microbial bloom that was created by the eruption. (Video credit: Dave Butterfield, University of Washington, Copyright Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

Oregon State University Press Release: Scientist find eruption at undersea volcano (August 9, 2011)
National Science Foundation Press Release: NSF Ocean Observatories Initiative Streams Live Viedo of Undersea Volcano

Images from the discovery expedition:

ash_rock_molten_lava New_lava_contact.jpg (.4 MB)

The manipulator arm of the Jason remotely operated vehicle (upper left) prepares to sample the new lava flow that was erupted last April on the seafloor at Axial Seamount. (Photo credit: Bill Chadwick, Oregon State University, Copyright Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution).

Buried OBH instrument OBH_buried.jpg (.4 MB)

The chain above an ocean-bottom hydrophone (OBH) come directly out of the seafloor where the April 2011 lava flow has buried the instrument to a depth of about 2 meters (6 feet).  The front of the Jason remotely operated vehicle is in the lower right and its manipulator arms are visible in the upper left and right. (Photo credit: Bill Chadwick, Oregon State University, Copyright Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

Fiery-blast OBH_unburied.jpg (.15 MB)

A spider crab inspects an ocean-bottom hydrophone (OBH) mooring as it sits on the seafloor at Axial Seamount before the 2011 eruption.  The OBH is in the white pressure case and is a monitoring instrument designed to detect undersea earthquakes.  The chain attached to the yellow pressure case (an acoustic release) is connected to flotation above this view.

(Photo credit: Bill Chadwick, Oregon State University).
fire and smoke Pressure_measurement.jpg (.2 MB)

The manipulator arm of the Jason remotely operated vehicle places the precise pressure sensor (yellow cylinder at left) on a cement monument that was used to measure volcanic inflation and forecast the 2011 eruption at Axial Seamount.
(Photo credit: Bill Chadwick, Oregon State University, Copyright Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

More Information:

Link to PMEL publications about Axial Seamount.

 

Previous expeditions to Axial Seamount are described on the New Millenium Observatory (NeMO) web site.

 

Expedition Websites: 2013:Thompson - Falkor | 2007 | 2006 | 2005 | 2004 |2003 |2002 | 2001 | 2000 | 1999 | 1998

Cruise Reports: (pdf files) 2013 | 2012 | 2011 | 2010 | 2007 | 2006 | 2005 | 2004 | 2003 | 2001 | 2000 | 1999 |1998