National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 2018

The recent volcanic history of Axial Seamount: Geophysical insights into past eruption dynamics with an eye toward enhanced observations of future eruptions

Wilcock, W.S.D., R.P. Dziak, M. Tolstoy, W.W. Chadwick, Jr., S.L. Nooner, D.R. Bohnenstiehl, J. Caplan-Auerbach, F. Waldhauser, A.F. Arnulf, C. Baillard, T.-K. Lau, J.H. Haxel, Y.J. Tan, C. Garcia, S. Levy, and M.E. Mann

Oceanography, 31(1), 114–123, doi: 10.5670/oceanog.2018.117 (2018)

To understand the processes that form oceanic crust as well as the role of submarine volcanoes in exchanging heat and chemicals with the ocean and in supporting chemosynthetic biological communities, it is essential to study underwater eruptions. The world’s most advanced underwater volcano observatory—the Ocean Observatories Initiative Cabled Array at Axial Seamount—builds upon ~30 years of sustained geophysical monitoring at this site with autonomous and remote systems. In April 2015, only months after the Cabled Array’s installation, it recorded an eruption at Axial Seamount, adding to the records of two prior eruptions in 1998 and 2011. Between eruptions, magma recharge is focused beneath the southeast part of the summit caldera, leading to steady inflation and increasing rates of seismicity. During each eruption, the volcano deflates over days to weeks, coincident with high levels of seismicity as a dike is emplaced along one of the volcano’s rifts and lava erupts on the seafloor. Cabled Array seismic data show that motions on an outward-dipping ring fault beneath the caldera accommodate the inflation and deflation. Eruptions appear to occur at a predictable level of inflation; hence, it should be possible to time deployments of additional cabled and autonomous instrumentation to further enhance observations of the next eruption.

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