National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 1994

Lava flows from a mid-1980s submarine eruption on the Cleft Segment, Juan de Fuca Ridge

Chadwick, Jr., W.W., and R.W. Embley

J. Geophys. Res., 99(B3), 4761–4776, doi: 10.1029/93JB02041 (1994)

A series of lava flows with a total volume of 0.05 km3; were erupted in the mid-1980s along 17 km of the northern Cleft segment of the Juan de Fuca Ridge. Observations from camera tows and submersible dives show that the new flows are all similar in appearance and consist entirely of pillow lava with a mixture of smooth and striated surface textures, suggesting a relatively uniform eruption rate approaching 1 m3/s at point source vents. The flows vary in size from small patches to large steep- sided ridges and were probably erupted from a dike intruded along the ridge axis because they are aligned along a linear fissure/graben system. Observations at north Cleft show that the physical appearance of new flows changes more rapidly than previously realized and that earlier qualitative dating of young lavas based on sediment cover and glassy surface texture were probably overestimates by an order of magnitude. Sediment accumulation on the lavas is quite variable and locally surprisingly substantial, mainly due to hydrothermal deposits that formed while the lava flows were cooling. Biological vent communities photographed on the new flows in 1989 show that vent animals can colonize new vent sites rapidly but that warm water was still venting only in a few places. Nonvent animals are much slower to colonize the new flows and rates of colonization observed at north Cleft may be useful for making improved age estimates of young (<10 years) lava flows elsewhere. The north Cleft eruption represents about 2% of the estimated average annual volcanic output along the global mid-ocean ridge, implying that many other submarine eruptions are occurring undetected.

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