National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 1990

Evidence of active ground deformation on the mid-ocean ridge: Axial Seamount, Juan de Fuca Ridge, April–June 1988

Fox, C.G.

J. Geophys. Res., 95(B8), 12,813–12,822, doi: 10.1029/JB095iB08p12813 (1990)

Since September 1987 a precision bottom pressure recorder (BPR) has been deployed within the summit caldera of Axial Seamount on the central Juan de Fuca Ridge. The instrument is capable of measuring pressure to 1 mbar resolution and recording these measurements at 64 samples per hour for up to 15 months. After removal of oscillatory signals due to tidal and oceanographic effects and linear trends caused by sensor drift, any significant change in the pressure record should indicate a change of depth associated with vertical ground movement. In subaerial volcanic systems, such ground movements commonly indicate active inflation or deflation of underlying magma bodies and are frequently coincident with rift eruptions. Axial Seamount was selected for this pilot study for three primary reasons: (1) its tectonic setting, (2) the presence of a well-formed summit caldera, and (3) observational evidence of geologically recent volcanic activity. Results from the first 9 months of the BPR deployment revealed a significant change in pressure, which is interpreted to represent a 15-cm subsidence of the caldera floor during two 2- to 3-week periods in April–June 1988. Also during these periods, an anomalous decline in temperature at the site was recorded that is correlated with an apparent increase in current velocity at the Axial Seamount Hydrothermal Emissions Study (ASHES) vent field, suggesting vigorous advection of cold water into the caldera. Concurrent oceanographic data from Geosat and from current meter arrays do not indicate any large-scale oceanographic phenomena capable of generating these simultaneous events. One mechanism to explain simultaneous ground subsidence and temperature decline at the caldera center and increased bottom current at the caldera margin is the generation of a buoyant parcel of heated water in response to the intrusion or the eruption of magma associated with volcanic deflation. Such a parcel must have been sufficiently buoyant and proximal to induce horizontal entrainment currents capable of producing the bottom water conditions that were observed at both sites. Similar volcanic events also may have generated large midwater plumes that have been described previously along the southern Juan de Fuca Ridge.

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