National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 2014

Eruption of South Sarigan Seamount, Northern Mariana Islands: Insights into hazards from submarine volcanic eruptions

Embley, R.W., Y. Tamura, S.G. Merle, T. Sato, O. Oshizuka, W.W. Chadwick, Jr., D.A. Wiens, P. Shore, and R.J. Stern

Oceanography, 27(2), 24–31, doi: 10.5670/oceanog.2014.37 (2014)

The eruption of South Sarigan Seamount in the southern Mariana arc in May 2010 is a reminder of how little we know about the hazards associated with submarine explosive eruptions or how to predict these types of eruptions. Monitored by local seismometers and distant hydrophones, the eruption from ~ 200 m water depth produced a gas and ash plume that breached the sea surface and rose ~ 12 km into the atmosphere. This is one of the first instances for which a wide range of pre- and post-eruption observations allow characterization of such an event on a shallow submarine volcanic arc volcano. Comparison of bathymetric surveys before and after the eruptions of the South Sarigan Seamount reveals the eruption produced a 350 m diameter crater, deeply breached on the west side, and a broad apron downslope with deposits > 50 m thick. The breached summit crater formed within a pre-eruption dome-shaped summit composed of andesite lavas. Dives with the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology Hyper-Dolphin remotely operated vehicle sampled the wall of the crater and the downslope deposits, which consist of andesite lava blocks lying on pumiceous gravel and sand. Chemical analyses show that the andesite pumice is probably juvenile material from the eruption. The unexpected eruption of this seamount, one of many poorly studied shallow seamounts of comparable size along the Mariana and other volcanic arcs, underscores our lack of understanding of submarine hazards associated with submarine volcanism.

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