Following the eruption and evolution of a submarine volcano live: The 2015 Eruption of Axial Seamount

Kelley et al., 1 June 2014

An outstanding RCA science success has been the unprecedented insights into submarine volcanism (which accounts for >70% of the volcanism on Earth) through cabled instrumentation at Axial Seamount [1-5; 10-22]. It is the only place in the oceans where numerous processes operating prior to, during, and following a submarine eruption are captured live through data streaming from a diverse array of >20 cabled seafloor instruments. Axial Seamount, located >300 miles off the OR coast at a water depth of 1500 m, is the most active volcano on the Juan de Fuca Ridge having erupted in 1998, 2011, and 2015 [6-9]. In the first year of RCA operations (2014), nearly 200,000 local earthquakes were detected [18]. In the 3 months prior to the 2015 eruption, ~60,000 earthquakes were located in the caldera (Fig 1b [18]). Beginning in March 2015, the RCA seismic array detected an increase to >3000 earthquakes/day, correlated to lunar tides (Fig. 1c [18]). On April 24, 2015 tremor began marking magma movement and 6 hours later a seismic crisis occurred (~0420 UTC) [18]. This event marked the onset of a large eruption with > 8000 earthquakes over 24 hours, documenting the opening and migration of fissures in the caldera and northern rift zone that extended 20 km north of the caldera (Fig. 1c [8,10,14,18-19]). At ~0615 UTC, the RCA bottom pressure tilt instruments recorded a rapid drop in the seafloor, which over the 24 hours totaled ~2.4 m [14]. At 0801 UTC April 24, the seismic network began detecting ~37,000 impulsive events in the water column, reflecting submarine explosions (Fig. 1b [10,18]). Seafloor mapping and ROV dives showed that these explosions were coincident with lava flows in the caldera and flows along the northern rift zone that were up to 127 m thick (Fig. 1a, d) [2,8,16]. On April 27, temperature sensors detected a rise in near bottom temperatures in the caldera with injection of warm, saline fluids from the subsurface [10,20]. From ~May 1-20, RCA hydrophones recorded long-duration diffusive signals consistent with fountaining of gas-rich lavas, similar to Hawaiian style eruptions, and ash formation; follow-on cruises documented ash on some RCA instruments [10]. On May 21, explosions along the northern rift system stopped, and the caldera floor began to re-inflate [18]. Dives 3 months after the eruptions documented acres of microbial mats covering the warm lava flows and ejection from the subsurface of hyperthermophilic microbes into the water column (Fig. 1 e [2, 16]). Bottom pressure- tilt instruments now show reinflation of the volcano coincident with increased seismic activity. Results from these instruments are allowing the first predictions to be made of when a submarine eruption will occur [21].

It is important to note that Axial Seamount has become a critical research communities’ experimental site to examine seafloor volcanism along a mid-ocean ridge. Since 2016, >$15M (exclusive of ship-ROV costs) in awards from NSF, the Office of Navy Research, and NASA have been made to >30 researchers to add infrastructure onto the RCA at Axial Seamount and to conduct science. Awards span the development of new technologies for geodectic studies at Axial and with future application to monitoring deformation in subduction zones [21-23], quantitative measurements of heat flux through multibeam sonar imaging of plumes [24], and energy extraction. The NASA Exobiology multi-year award includes the cabled installation of three raman laser systems and stereo cameras in the ASHES hydrothermal field for advancing life detection and exploration strategies at other watery bodies [25-26].

[1] Kelley, D.S., Delaney, J.R., and Juniper, S.K. (2014) Establishing a new era of submarine volcanic observatories: Cabling Axial Seamount and the Endeavour Segment of the Juan de Fuca Ridge. Marine Geology, 352, 426-450,

[2] Kelley, D.S., Delaney, J.R., Chadwick, W., Philip, B.T., and Merle, S.G. (2015) Axial Seamount 2015 eruption: A 127 m thick, microbially-covered lava flow. American Geophysical Union, Fall Meeting 2015, abstract id. OS41B-08.

[3] Delaney, J.R., D.S. Kelley, A. Marburg, M. Stoermer, H. Hadaway, K. Juniper and F. Knuth (2016). Axial Seamount – wired and restless: A cabled submarine network enables real-time, tracking of a mid-ocean ridge eruption and live video of an active hydrothermal system Juan de Fuca Ridge, NE Pacific. OCEANS 16 Monterey, IEEE.,

[4] Kelley, D.S., J.R. Delaney, and the Cabled Array Team (2016). NSF’s Cabled Array: A wired tectonic plate and overlying ocean. OCEANS 2016 MTS/IEEE Monterey, https://10.1109/OCEANS.2016.7761398.

[5] Kelley, D.S. (2017). Volcans’ Rule Beneath the Sea. Nature Geoscience,10, 251-253;

[6] Chadwick, W.W., Jr., Clague, D.A., Embley, R.W., Perfit, M.R., Butterfield, D.A., Caress, D.W., Paduan, J.B., Martin, J.F., Sasnett, P., Merle, S.G., and Bobbitt, A.M. (2013) The 1998 eruption of Axial Seamount: New insights on submarine lava flow emplacement form high-resolution mapping. Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems, 14(10),

[7] Caress, D. W., Clague, D. A. Paduan, J. B., Martin, J. F., Dreyer, B. M., Chadwick, W.W., Jr., Denny, A., and Kelley, D.S. (2012) Repeat bathymetric surveys at 1-metre resolution of lava flows erupted at Axial Seamount in April 2011. Nature Geoscience, 5(7), 483–488.

[8] Chadwick, W.W., Jr., Paduan, J.B., Clague, D.A., Dreyer, B.M., Merle, S.G. Bobbitt, A.M. Bobbitt, Caress, D.W. Caress, Philip, B.T., Kelley, D.S., and Nooner, S. (2016) Voluminous eruption from a zoned magma body after an increase in supply rate at Axial Seamount. Geophysical Research Letters, 43, 12,063-12,070;

[9] Clague, D.A., Paduan, J.B., Caress, D.W., Chadwick, W.W., Jr., Le Saout, M., Dreyer, B.M. and Portner, R.A. (2017) High-resolution AUV mapping and targeted ROV observations of three historic lava flows at Axial Seamount. Oceanography, 30(4), 82–99;

[10] Caplan-Auerbach, J., Dziak, R.P., Haxel, J., Bohnenstiehl, D.R., Garcia, C. (2018) Explosive processes during the 2015 eruption of Axial Seamount, as recorded by seafloor hydrophones. Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems, 18, 1761-1774.

[11] Doran, A.K., and Crawford, W.C. (2020) Continuous evolution of crustal structure following an eruption at Axial Seamount, Juan de Fuca Ridge. Geological Society of America, 48, doi:10.1130/G46831.

[12] Hefner, W.L., Nooner, S.L., Chadwick, W.W., Jr., and Bohnenstiehl, D.R. (2020) Magmatic deformation models including caldera-ring faulting for the 2015 eruption of Axial Seamount. Journal of Geophysical Research, doi:10.1029/2020JB019356.

[13] Levy, S., Bohnenstiehl, D.R., Sprinkle, R., Boettcher, M.S., Wilcock, W.S.D., Tolstoy, M., and Waldhouser, F. (2018) Mechanics of fault reactivation before, during, and after the 2015 eruption of Axial Seamount. Geology, 46(5), 447-450;

[14] Nooner, S.L., and Chadwick, W.W. Jr., (2016) Inflation- predictable behavior and co-eruption deformation at Axial Seamount. Science, 354, 1399-1403;

[15] Sasagawa, G. S., Cook, M.J., and Zumberge, M.A. (2016) Drift-corrected seafloor pressure observations of vertical deformation at Axial Seamount 2013–2014. Earth and Space Science, 3(9), 381–385.

[16] Spietz, R.L., Butterfield, D.A., Buck, N.J., Larson, B.L., Chadwick, W.W., Jr., Walker, S.L., Kelley, D.S. and Morris, R.M. (2018) Deep-sea volcanic eruptions create unique chemical and biological linkages between the subsurface lithosphere and the oceanic hydrosphere. Oceanography, 31, 128-135;

[17] Tolstoy, M., Wilcock, W.S.D., Tan, W.J., and Waldhauser, F. (2018) A tale of two eruptions: How data from Axial Sea- mount led to a discovery on the East Pacific Rise. Oceanography, 31(1), 124–125,

[18] Wilcock, W.S.D., Tolstoy, M., Waldhauser, F., Garcia, C., Tan, Y.J., Bohnenstiehl, D.R., Caplan-Auerbach, J., Dziak, R., Arnulf, A.F., and Mann, M.E. (2016) Seismic constraints on caldera dynamics from the 2015 Axial Seamount eruption. Science, 354, 1395-399;               https:// /science.aah5563.

[19] Wilcock, W.S.D., Dziak, R.P., Tolstoy, M., Chadwick, W.W., Jr., Nooner, S.L., Bohnenstiehl, D.R., Caplan-Auerbach, J., Waldhauser, F., Arnulf, A.F., Baillard, C., Lau, T., Haxel, J.H., Tan, Y.J, Garcia, C., Levy, S., and Mann, M.E. (2018) The recent volcanic history of Axial Seamount: Geophysical insights into past eruption dynamics with an eye toward enhanced observations of future eruptions. Oceanography, 31, (1), 114-123.

[20] Xu, G., Chadwick, W.W., Jr., Wilcock, W.S.D., Bemis, K.G., and Delaney, J.R. (2018) Observations and modeling of hydrothermal response to the 2015 eruption at Axial Seamount, Northeast Pacific. Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems, 19, 2780-2797. https://doi. org/10.1029/2018GC007607.

[21] Chadwick, W.W., Jr., Nooner, S.L., and Lau, T.K.A. (2019) Forecasting the next eruption at Axial Seamount based on an inflation-predictable pattern of deformation. American Geophysical Union, Fall Meeting 2019, OS51B-1489.

[22] Sasagawa, G.S., Cook, M.J., and Zumberge, M.A. (2019) Drift corrected pressure time series at Axial Seamount, July 2018 to present. American Geophysical Union, Fall Meeting 2019, OS51B-1488.

[23] Fredrickson, E.K., Wilcock, W.S.D., Baillard, C., Harrington, M., Cram, G., Tilley, J., Chadwick, W.W. Jr., and Nooner, S.L. (2019) Observing and interpreting seafloor tilt at Axial Seamount. American Geophysical Union, Fall Meeting 2019, OS51B-1490.

[24] Bemis, K.G., Xu, G., Jackson, D.R. and Ivakin, A.N. (2019) Fluid composition or bottom currents: What drives extremes in behavior of plumes at ASHES vent field, Axial Volcano. American Geophysical Union, Fall Meeting 2019, OS51B-1493.

[25] Sobron, P., Barge, L.M., Amend, J., Burnett, J., Detry, R., Doloboff, R., Kelley, D.S., Marburg, A., Misra, A.K., Nawaz, A., Price, R.E., Smith, M., Zacny, K., and Thornton, B. (2018) Exploring underwater vent systems: New technologies and strategies to advance life detection and scientific understanding of ocean worlds. American Geophysical Union, Fall Meeting 2018, P33G-3903.

[26] Sobron, P., Barge, L., Acousta-Maeda, T., Amend, J., Burnett, J., Detry, R., Doloboff, I., Hermis, N., Kelley, D.S., Manalang, D., Marburg, A., Misra, A., Nawaz, A., Price, R.E., Rehnmark, F., Smith, M., Thornton, B., Yu, D., Zacny, K. (2019) InVADER: Furthering the understanding and exploration readiness of terrestrial and planetary underwater vent systems. 2019 Astrobiology Science Conference,