Axial Seamount Continues to Reveal Its Secrets

Axial Seamount is the longest monitored mid-ocean ridge volcano, providing new insights into the relationships among magma supply, uplift-deflation behavior, and seismicity leading to and follow eruptions. Results are as summarized here from a new comprehensive publication by Chadwick et al., 2022.

a) Cross section cartoon showing shallow magma chamber beneath Axial fed by a series of stacked sills. Upward migrating of melt through the sills results increases pressure in the shallow chamber causing uplift and associated earthquakes. b) Exponential increase in earthquakes per meter of uplift since the 2015 eruption. c) Earthquakes per meter of uplift before March 12, 2015 follow an exponential increase, while post this day earthquakes follow a linear trend leading up to the April 24, 2015 eruption. (After Chadwick et al., 2022; Figures 6 and 13).

The magma supply rate has changed significantly over periods of months to years.  Since the 2015 eruption, the summit of the volcano has been inflating at a decreasing rate. This re-inflation was punctuated by eight discrete short-term deflation events occurring over 1-3 weeks, approximately every 4-6 months from August 2016 to May 2019. These deflation events were coincident with an abrupt decrease in seismic activity, which did not pick up until reinflation resumed. In contrast, the long-term monitoring indicates that there was a surge in magma supply between 2011 and 2015, resulting in the two eruptions closely spaced in time.

Although the summit of the volcano has inflated 85%-90% of its pre 2015 eruption level, the geodetic and seismic monitoring suggests that the magma supply rate has been waning since 2015, pushing the forecast for the next eruption out 4-9 years. The data since 2015 also show that the deformation and seismic activity are tightly coupled, showing an exponential increase in seismic activity per unit of uplift. A significant conclusion from this study is that the transition from an exponential to linear increase in seismic activity to total uplift may indicate impending crustal failure between the shallow magma chamber and the seafloor. In concert, these results may lead to more refined forecasting of future eruptions of this highly active volcano and the testing of hypotheses concerning the short-term deflation events.

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Chadwick, W.W., Jr., W.S.D. Wilcock, S.L. Nooner, J.W Beeson, A.M. Sawyer, and T.-K. Lau (2022) Geodetic monitoring at Axial Seamount since its 2015 eruption reveals a waning magma supply and tightly linked rates of deformation and seismicity. Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems, 23, e2021GC01053.