National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 2018

Observation and modeling of hydrothermal response to the 2015 eruption at Axial Seamount, northeast Pacific

Xu, G., W.W. Chadwick, Jr., W.S.D. Wilcock, K.G. Bemis, and J. Delaney

Geochem. Geophys. Geosyst., 19(8), 2780–2797, doi: 10.1029/2018GC007607, View online (2018)

The 2015 eruption at Axial Seamount, an active volcano at a depth of 1500 m in the Northeast Pacific, marked the first time a seafloor eruption was detected and monitored by an in situ cabled observatory—the Cabled Array, which is part of the Ocean Observatories Initiative. After the onset of the eruption, eight cabled and noncabled instruments on the seafloor recorded unusual, nearly synchronous and spatially uniform temperature increases of 0.6–0.7°C across the southern half of the caldera and neighboring areas. These temperature signals were substantially different from those observed after the 2011 and 1998 eruptions at Axial and hence cannot be explained by emplacement of the 2015 lava flows on the seafloor. In this study, we investigate several possible explanations for the 2015 temperature anomalies and use a numerical model to test our preferred hypothesis that the temperature increases were caused by the release of a warm, dense brine that had previously been stored in the crust. If our interpretation is correct, this is the first time that the release of a hydrothermal brine has been observed due to a submarine eruption. This observation would have important implications for the salt balance of hydrothermal systems and the fate of brines stored in the subsurface. The observation of the 2015 temperature anomalies and the modeling presented in this study also demonstrate the importance of contemporaneous water column observations to better understand hydrothermal impacts of submarine eruptions.

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