National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 2012

Seismic precursors and magma ascent before the April 2011 eruption at Axial Seamount

Dziak, R.P., J.H. Haxel, D.R. Bohnenstiehl, W.W. Chadwick, Jr., S.L. Nooner, M.J. Fowler, H. Matsumoto, and D.A.. Butterfield

Nature Geosci., 5(7), 478–482, doi: 10.1038/ngeo1490 (2012)

Volcanoes at spreading centres on land often exhibit seismicity and ground inflation months to years before an eruption, caused by a gradual influx of magma to the source reservoir. Deflation and seismicity can occur on time scales of hours to days, and result from the injection of magma into adjacent rift zones. Volcanoes at submarine rift zones, such as Axial Seamount in the northeast Pacific Ocean, have exhibited similar behaviour, but a direct link between seismicity, seafloor deformation and magma intrusion has never been demonstrated. Here we present recordings from ocean-bottom hydrophones and an established array of bottom-pressure recorders that reveal patterns of both microearthquakes and seafloor deformation at Axial Seamount on the Juan de Fuca Ridge, before it erupted in April 2011. Our observations show that the rate of seismicity increased steadily during a period of several years, leading up to an intrusion and eruption of magma that began on 6 April 2011. We also detected a sudden increase in seismo-acoustic energy about 2.6 h before the eruption began. Our data indicate that access to real-time seismic data, projected to be available in the near future, might facilitate short-term forecasting and provide sufficient leadtime to prepare in situ instrumentation before future intrusion and eruption events.

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