Underwater Volcano’s Eruption Captured In Exquisite Detail By Seafloor Observatory

2017-02-06T16:04:15+00:00 January 24, 2017|
The Axial Seamount is an active submarine volcano located about 300 miles off the coast of Oregon. (Credit: Image courtesy of Oregon State University)

(Click to enlarge) The Axial Seamount is an active submarine volcano located about 300 miles off the coast of Oregon. (Credit: Image courtesy of Oregon State University)

The cracking, bulging and shaking from the eruption of a mile-high volcano where two tectonic plates separate has been captured in more detail than ever before. A University of Washington study published this week shows how the volcano behaved during its spring 2015 eruption, revealing new clues about the behavior of volcanoes where two ocean plates are moving apart.

(From Science Daily)– “The new network allowed us to see in incredible detail where the faults are, and which were active during the eruption,” said lead author William Wilcock, a UW professor of oceanography. The new paper in Science is one of three studies published together that provide the first formal analyses of the seismic vibrations, seafloor movements and rock created during an April 2015 eruption off the Oregon coast. “We have a new understanding of the behavior of caldera dynamics that can be applied to other volcanoes all over the world.”

The studies are based on data collected by the Cabled Array, a National Science Foundation-funded project that brings electrical power and internet to the seafloor. The observatory, completed just months before the eruption, provides new tools to understand one of the test sites for understanding Earth’s volcanism.

“Axial volcano has had at least three eruptions, that we know of, over the past 20 years,” said Rick Murray, director of the NSF’s Division of Ocean Sciences, which also funded the research. “Instruments used by Ocean Observatories Initiative scientists are giving us new opportunities to understand the inner workings of this volcano, and of the mechanisms that trigger volcanic eruptions in many environments.

“The information will help us predict the behavior of active volcanoes around the globe,” Murray said.

It’s a little-known fact that most of Earth’s volcanism takes place underwater. Axial Volcano rises 0.7 miles off the seafloor some 300 miles off the Pacific Northwest coast, and its peak lies about 0.85 miles below the ocean’s surface. Just as on land, we learn about ocean volcanoes by studying vibrations to see what is happening deep inside as plates separate and magma rushes up to form new crust.

The submarine location has some advantages. Typical ocean crust is just 4 miles (6 km) thick, roughly five times thinner than the crust that lies below land-based volcanoes. The magma chamber is not buried as deeply, and the hard rock of ocean crust generates crisper seismic images.

“One of the advantages we have with seafloor volcanoes is we really know very well where the magma chamber is,” Wilcock said.

“The challenge in the oceans has always been to get good observations of the eruption itself.”

All that changed when the Cabled Array was installed and instruments were turned on. Analysis of vibrations leading up to and during the event show an increasing number of small earthquakes, up to thousands a day, in the previous months. The vibrations also show strong tidal triggering, with six times as many earthquakes during low tides as high tides while the volcano approached its eruption.

Once lava emerged, movement began along a newly formed crack, or dike, that sloped downward and outward inside the 2-mile-wide by 5-mile-long caldera.

Read the full article here: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/12/161215143532.htm