National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 2012

Active submarine eruption of boninite in the northeastern Lau Basin

Resing, J.A., K.H. Rubin, R.W. Embley, J.E. Lupton, E.T. Baker, R.P. Dziak, T. Baumberger, M. Lilley, J. Huber, T. Shank, D.A. Butterfield, D. Clague, N. Keller, S. Merle, N. Buck, P. Michael, A. Soule, D. Caress, S.L. Walker, R. Davis, J. Cowen, A.-L. Reysenbach, and H. Thomas

Nature Geosci., 4, 799–806, doi: 10.1038/NGEO1275 (2011)

Subduction of oceanic crust and the formation of volcanic arcs above the subduction zone are important components in Earth’s geological and geochemical cycles. Subduction consumes and recycles material from the oceanic plates, releasing fluids and gases that enhance magmatic activity, feed hydrothermal systems, generate ore deposits and nurture chemosynthetic biological communities. Among the first lavas to erupt at the surface from a nascent subduction zone are a type classified as boninites. These lavas contain information about the early stages of subduction, yet because most subduction systems on Earth are old and well-established, boninite lavas have previously only been observed in the ancient geological record. Here we observe and sample an active boninite eruption occurring at 1,200m depth at the West Mata submarine volcano in the northeast Lau Basin, southwest Pacific Ocean. We find that large volumes of H2O, CO2 and sulphur are emitted, which we suggest are derived from the subducting slab. These volatiles drive explosive eruptions that fragment rocks and generate abundant incandescent magma-skinned bubbles and pillow lavas. The eruption has been ongoing for at least 2.5 years and we conclude that this boninite eruption is a multi-year, low-mass-transfer-rate eruption. Thus the Lau Basin may provide an important site for the long-term study of submarine volcanic eruptions related to the early stages of subduction.

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