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.

[media-caption path="/wp-content/uploads/2022/02/Axial.png" link="#"]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).[/media-caption]

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.


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.

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RCA Recording Swarm of Earthquakes in Real Time

On December 7, 2021 a swarm of earthquakes began on the Blanco Transform Fault, a major plate boundary at the southern end of the Juan de Fuca Plate. The ongoing seismic swarm is being tracked live by the National Science Foundation’s underwater observatory, the Regional Cabled Array (RCA). The RCA is a component of NSF’s Ocean Observatories Initiative and is operated and maintained by the University of Washington. It includes ~900 km of high power and high bandwidth submarine fiber optic cables that stretch from Pacific City, OR out to the most active volcano off the coast “Axial Seamount” that erupted in 1998, 2011 and again in 2015. A second cable heads south along the Cascadia Subduction Zone and turns east along the Cascadia Margin off Newport, OR. Over 150 instruments on the seafloor and on instrumented moorings provide real-time data flow to shore at the speed of light. A suite of seismometers at the summit of Axial Seamount lit up on December 7, 2021 as the seismic swarm began along the Blanco. This live feed was developed by the UW Applied Physics Laboratory.



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PI Cabled Instrument Provides Real-Time Sonar Measurements of Hydrothermal Plume Emissions

[media-caption path="" link="#"]Figure 26. a) Location of the COVIS sonar and RCA infrastructure in the ASHES Hydrothermal Field. Also shown are locations of the active ~ 4 m tall hydrothermal edifices ‘Mushroom’ and ‘Inferno’. c) The COVIS sonar in 2019 (Credit: Rutgers/UW/NSF-OOI/WHOI). The tower is 4.2 m tall and hosts a modified Reson 7125 SeaBat multibeam sonar mounted on a tri-axial rotator. The system was built by the UW Applied Physics Laboratory. d) Selected time-series images from COVIS showing bending of the plume eastward, e) a nearly vertical plume, and f) southward bending of the plume (after Fig. 7 Xu et al., 2020).[/media-caption]

The Cabled Observatory Vent Imaging Sonar (COVIS) was installed on the OOI RCA in the ASHES hydrothermal field (Fig. 26 a-c) at the summit of Axial Seamount in 2018, resulting in the first long-term, quantitative monitoring of plume emissions (Xu et al., 2020). The sonar provides 3-dimensional backscatter images of buoyant plumes above the actively venting ‘Inferno’ and ‘Mushroom’ edifices, and two-dimensional maps of diffuse flow at temporal frequencies of 15 and 2 minutes, respectively. Sonar data coupled with in-situ thermal measurements document significant changes in plume variations (Fig. 26 d-f) and modeling results indicate a heat flux of 10 MW for the Inferno plume (Xu et al., 2020). COVIS will provide key data to the community investigating the impacts of eruptions on hydrothermal flow at this highly active volcano.

[1] Xu, G., Bemis, K., Jackson, D., and Ivakin, A., (2020) Acoustic and in-situ observations of deep seafloor hydrothermal discharge: OOI Cabled Array ASHES vent field case study. Earth and Space Science. Note: This project was funded by the National Science Foundation through an award to PI Dr. K. Bemis, Rutgers University – “Collaborative Research: Heat flow mapping and quantification at ASHES hydrothermal vent field using an observatory imaging sonar (#1736702). COVIS data are available through

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RCA Video Shared via Oregon Coast Beach Connection

The Oregon Coast Beach Connection reports:

(Newport, Oregon) – There’s a whole lotta Sci-Fi-like action taking place off the Washington and Oregon coast, and no one really knows. Think the movie “Sphere” with a touch of “The Abyss,” throw in some X-Files and even a handful of high seas adventures, and you may have what’s going on with the Ocean Observatories Initiative (OOI), its enormous cabled array around the ocean floor, and the occasional research vessel – all studying the Axial Mount undersea volcano and the entirety of that area where the two tectonic plates meet…

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Discovery of the Roots of the Axial Seamount

[media-caption type="image" class="external" path="" alt="Axial Seamount Roots" link="#"]. Figure 14: a) Location of 1998, 2011, and 2015 lava flows at the summit of Axial Seamount, two magma chambers (re outlines MMR & SMR) and seismic lines (after [1]). b) Map view and perspective view of the MMR magma reservoir, seismicity and fault mechanisms from 10/2014 to 9/2015 (after [1]).[/media-caption]

Two- and 3D-imaging of Axial Seamount, coupled with real-time monitoring of seismicity and seafloor deformation, is providing unprecedented insights into submarine volcanism, the nature of melt transport, and caldera dynamics (Figure 14) [1-15]. Recently acquired 3D imaging of the volcano [2] and analyses of 1999 and 2002 multichannel seismic data [4-7] have led to the remarkable discovery of a root zone 6 km beneath the volcano [2,5]. Carbotte et al., [5] describe a 3-to-5 km wide conduit that is interpreted to be comprised of numerous quasi-horizontal melt lenses spaced 400-500 m apart. The conduit is located beneath a 14-km-long magma reservoir (MMR) that spans the caldera of Axial Seamount and a secondary, smaller magma chamber (SMR) located beneath the eastern flank of the volcano [1,3]. This smaller reservoir presumably Dymond hydrothermal field hosting up to 60 m-tall actively venting chimneys, which was discovered on a 2011 RCA cruise. Seismicity prior to, during and subsequent to the 2015 eruption delineates outward dipping normal faults in the southern half of the caldera that extend from near the seafloor to 3-3.25 km depth [3,8-9]. In contrast, a conjugate set of inward dipping faults in the northern portion of the caldera extend to depths of ~ 2.25 km. The outward dipping ring faults were active during inflation and syn-eruptive deformation [[3,8-9]. Source fissures for the 1998, 2011, and 2015 eruptions are located within ± 1 km of where the MMR roof is shallowest (<1.6 km beneath the seafloor) and skewed toward the eastern caldera wall [3]. In concert, these studies are changing long-held views of magma chamber geometry and the deep-rooted feeder systems in mid-ocean ridge environments [2,5].

[1] Arnulf, A. F., Harding, A. J., Kent, G. M., Carbotte, S. M., Canales, J. P., and Nedimovic, M. R. (2014) Anatomy of an active submarine volcano. Geology, 42(8), 655–658.

[2] Arnulf, A.F., Harding, A.J., Saustrup, S., Kell, A.M., Kent, G.M., Carbott, S.M., Canales, J.P., Nedimovic, M.R., Bellucci M., Brandt, S., Cap, A., Eischen, T.E., Goulin, M., Griffiths, M., Lee, M., Lucas, V., Mitchell, S.J., and Oller, B. (2019) Imaging the internal workings of Axial Seamount on the Juan de Fuca Ridge. American Geophysical Union, Fall Meeting 2019, OS51B-1483.

[3] Arnulf, A.F., Harding, A.J., Kent, G.M., and Wilcock, W.S.D. (2018) Structure, seismicity and accretionary processes at the hot-spot influenced Axial Seamount on the Juan de Fuca Ridge. Journal of Geophysical Research, 10.1029/2017JB015131.

[4] Carbotte, S. M., Nedimovic, M. R., Canales, J. P., Kent, G. M., Harding, A. J., and Marjanovic, M. (2008) Variable crustal structure along the Juan de Fuca Ridge: Influence of on-axis hot spots and absolute plate motions. Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems, 9, Q08001.

[5] Carbotte, S.M., Arnulf, A.F., Spiegelman, M.W., Harding, A.J., Kent, G.M., Canales, J.P., and Nedimovic, M.R. (2019) Seismic images of a deep melt-mush feeder conduit beneath Axial Volcano. American Geophysical Union, Fall Meeting 2019, OS51B-1484.

[6] West, M., Menke, W., and Tolstoy, M. (2003) Focused magma supply at the intersection of the Cobb hotspot and the Juan de Fuca ridge. Geophysical Research Letters, 30(14), 1724.

[7] West, M., Menke, W., Tolstoy, M., Webb, S., and Sohn, R. (2001). Magma storage beneath Axial volcano on the Juan de Fuca mid-ocean ridge. Nature, 413(6858), 833–836.

[8] 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; /science.aah5563.

[9] 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.

[10] 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.

[11] 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; https://doi. org/10.1002/2016GL071327.

[12] Nooner, S.L., and Chadwick, W.W. Jr. (2016) Inflation- predictable behavior and co-eruption deformation at Axial Seamount. Science, 354, 1399-1403; science.aah4666.

[13] Nooner, S.L., and Chadwick, W.W. Jr. (2016) Inflation- predictable behavior and co-eruption deformation at Axial Seamount. Science, 354, 1399-1403; science.aah4666.

[14] 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, https://doi:10.1029/2020JB019356.

[15] 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;


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Axial Seamount: One of the Longest Records for Tsunami Research in the Ocean

[caption id="attachment_18951" align="aligncenter" width="794"] Figure 22. a) Location of bottom pressure recorders (BPRS) at Axial Seamount and vicinity (Cleft segment not shown in this illustration), including DART buoys and an IODP Corked site (after [1]). Most of the pressure data for this investigation were from Axial Seamount. b) Source regionals for the tsunamis recorded at Axial with yellow circles indicating earthquake locations and circle size proportional to magnitudes. The thin blue lines mark the leading edge of tsunamis at 2 hr intervals after an earthquake. c) Temporal coverage of the BPR records and recorded tsunamis at Axial and adjacent areas 1986-2018. Magenta lines are BPR recordings from the Cleft Segment, south of Axial on the Juan de Fuca Ridge.[/caption]This study by Fine et al., [1] examines a 32 year record of high resolution bottom pressure recorder (BPR) measurements made by cabled instruments installed on Axial Seamount in 2014, and uncabled instruments at Axial, the Cleft Segment of the Juan de Fuca Ridge, DART buoys, and an IODP cored observatory (Hole 1026): most of the measurements in this study are from Axial (Figure 22).  A total of 41 tsunamis were documented from 1986-2018 with all events associated with tsunamigenic earthquakes with magnitudes of 7.0 or greater.  In contrast to coastal tide gauge observations, open ocean measurements by BPRs are advantageous because of the high signal-to-noise ratio.  Based on this study, it is possible to forecast the effect of a tsunami originating from a source near a historical source, not only for Axial, but also for locations along the British Columbia‐Washington‐Oregon coast.  These results allow a size-frequency model world-wide.  The RCA cabled bottom pressure-tilt instruments, with 20 Hz sampling rates and with resolutions of 2 mm of seawater depth, provide especially high-resolution measurements.

[1] Fine, I.V., Thomson, R.E., Chadwick, W.W., Jr., and Fox, C.G., (2020) Toward a universal frequency occurrence distribution for tsunamis: statistical analyses of a 32-year bottom pressure record at Axial Seamount.  Geophysical Research Letter,



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From Whale Songs to Volcanic Eruptions: OOI’s Cable Hears the Sounds of the Ocean

Sound is omnipresent in the ocean. Human-induced noise has the potential to affect marine life.

After the global recession in 2008, the ocean became quieter as shipping declined. Off the coast of Southern California, for example, scientists at Scripps Institution of Oceanography found that noise amplitudes measured from 2007-2010 were lowered by 70 percent with a reduction in one ship contributing about 10 percent.

A similar quieting of the ocean can be expected as global ship traffic continues its decline in response to the corona virus pandemic. This quieter ocean offers scientists ways to expand their ongoing research on ocean sound and its impact on marine life.

[media type="image" path="" link="#" alt="Fin Whale"][/media]

“It takes time to document real change in the ocean, but University of Washington oceanographers have reported that over the past decade, fin whales have been communicating more softly in the Pacific,“ said Deborah Kelley, professor of oceanography at the University of Washington and director of the OOI’s Regional Cabled Array (RCA) component. “A quieter ocean allows us to hear more clearly life and other natural processes within the ocean.”

Years of listening to whales

John Ryan, a biological oceanographer at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI), has been “listening in” on whales and other marine creatures since 2015 using a hydrophone on the Monterey Accelerated Research System (MARS), a cabled observatory, which was in part established as a test bed for the OOI Regional Cabled Array. Ryan and colleagues studied the occurrence of humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) song in the northeast Pacific using three years of continuous recordings off the coast of central California.

[media type="image" path="" link="#" alt="Humpback Whale"][/media]

“We’ve been listening almost continuously since July 28, 2015, using a broadband, digital, omnidirectional hydrophone connected to MARS. Listening continuously for that long at such a high sample rate is not easy; only by being connected to the cable is this possible,” explained Ryan.

The researchers were able to discern whale songs from the busy ocean soundscape in Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, which is a feeding and migratory habitat for humpback whales. The humpbacks’ song was detectable for nine months of the year (September–May) and peaked during the winter months of November through January. The study revealed strong relationships between year-to-year changes in the levels of song occurrence and ecosystem conditions that influence foraging ecology. The lowest song occurrence coincided with anomalous warm ocean temperatures, low abundances of krill – a primary food resource for humpback whales, and an extremely toxic harmful algal bloom that affected whales and other marine mammals in the region. Song occurrence increased with increasingly favorable foraging conditions in subsequent years.

Because the hydrophone is on the cabled observatory, its operation can be adjusted to achieve new goals.  For example, the sampling rate of the hydrophone was doubled during an experiment that successfully detected very high frequency echolocation clicks of dwarf sperm whales (with Karlina Merkens, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration).  “And that’s a beautiful aspect of being on the cable,” added Ryan. “Not only do we know that it is working, we catch any network glitches pretty quickly so we don’t lose data, and we can do real-time experiments like these.”

William Wilcock of the University of Washington and his students have compiled a decade worth of data on fin whales in the northern Pacific. Fin whales call at about 20 HZ, which is too low of a frequency for humans to hear, but perfect for seismometers to record. The researchers aggregated ten years of data from both temporary recorders and now permanent RCA hydrophones and seismic sensors and looked at the frequency of the calls and calling intervals. The researchers found both have changed over time.

The fin whales call seasonally and the frequency of the calls has gone down with time.

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Calls peak in late fall, early winter in relation to mating season. Gradually through the season the frequency decreases.  At the start of the next season, the call frequency jumps up again, but not quite to where it was the year before. Over ten years, the frequency has gone down about 2 HZ, and scientists are puzzled as to why this is occurring. It is unlikely to be due to increasing ship noise, because this lower sound frequency is getting closer to the range of the noise level of container ship propellers, about 6-10 HZ.

In some settings, ship noise is known to affect whale behavior and the permanent network of hydrophones operated by the OOI and Ocean Networks Canada will provide an opportunity to study whether whales are avoiding the shipping lanes to Asia.

Volcanoes also rumble in the deep

Whale sounds are but one of many acoustic signals being recorded and monitored using hydrophones and broadband seismometers. The OOI’s RCA off the Oregon Coast includes 900 kilometers (~560 miles) of submarine fiber-optic cables that provide unprecedented power, bandwidth, and communication to seafloor instrumentation and profiler moorings that span water depths of 2900 m to 5 m beneath the ocean surface. Using a suite of instruments connected to the cable, which continuously stream data in real time, scientists are listening in on the sounds of submarine volcanism, which accounts for more than 80 percent of all volcanism on Earth.

More than 300 miles off the Oregon coast in 1500 meters of water, 20+ cabled seafloor instruments are located at the summit of Axial Seamount, the most active volcano on the Juan de Fuca Ridge, including hydrophones and seismometers, which can also record sounds in the ocean.

“Scientists were able to hear(as acoustic noises traveling through the crust) >8000 earthquakes that marked the start of the Axial eruption in 2015. Coincident with this seismic crisis bottom pressure tilt instruments showed that the seafloor fell about 2.4 meters (~8 feet).

[video width="670" height="384" m4v=""][/video]

It was a remarkable collaborative event with scientists from across the country witnessing the eruption unfold live,” added Kelley. Such real-time documenting of an eruption in process was possible because of how Axial is wired. It is the only place in the oceans where numerous processes taking place prior to, during, and following a submarine eruption are captured live through data streaming 24/7. William Wilcock, University of Washington, and Scott Nooner, University of North Carolina, Wilmington, and colleagues reported these findings in Science, 2016.

Data collected from the hydrophones at the seamount’s base supported another discovery about Axial, indicating that it explosively erupted in 2015. Hydrophones recorded long-duration diffusive signals traveling through the ocean water consistent with explosion of gas-rich lavas, similar to Hawaiian style fissure eruptions.  Follow-on cruises documented ash on some RCA instruments, again indicating the likelihood of explosive events during the 2015 eruption.

“Having the opportunity to listen in while a submarine volcano is active offers a really interesting window into things,” said Jackie Caplan-Auerbach, associate dean at Western Washington University and lead author of a G-cubed article that reported the possible eruptive findings. “While we cannot say with utter certainty that there were explosions at Axial, there’s a lot of evidence that supports this. We know from having listened to other eruptions that this was the same type of sound. It’s distinct, like the hissing sound of a garden hose on at top speed. We also found these really fine particulates, which could only have resulted from an eruption, had collected on one of the instruments at the site.”

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Added Caplan-Auerbach, “My favorite part of having OOI is it offers an ability for pure discovery. Its real time nature makes it possible to observe and see what happens.  And sometimes the planet just hands you a gift that you didn’t expect.  Not always being hypothesis driven is a very valuable aspect of science that I hope does not get lost. I’m very appreciative of projects like this that open our eyes into signals that we didn’t know were there.”

More opportunities to expand knowledge about sound and the sea are on the horizon.  The US. Navy has funded Shima Abadi, University of Washington, Bothell, for a comprehensive study of sounds recorded by the OOI hydrophones.  Stay tuned!


Image credits: Top fin whale: Wikipedia, Aqqa Rosing-Asvid – Visit Greenland. Second from top: humpback whale: Public domain, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. 


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