Underwater Volcano Footage Catches Rare Sight of Submarine Eruption


The eruption of land-based volcanoes may be frequent. However, the same with a submarine volcano looks unique. More so about Axial Seamount — the active undersea volcano in the Northeast Pacific.

In the latest eruption in April 2015, it triggered an average 200,000 earthquakes 300 miles off the coast of Oregon.

What made it special was the eruption was predicted well in advance and was watched live by scientists thanks to a newly established underwater observatory. The Ocean Observatories Initiative Cabled Array’s real-time records are helping researchers to predict when the next eruption is going to happen.

Methodology Of Predicting Volcanic Eruptions

This was revealed in two papers published in the journal Science and Geophysical Research Letters that outlined the details laced with observations over the eruption. In the first study, William Wilcock and colleagues analyzed the seismic activity of an April 2015 Axial Seamount event after the seismic network captured an eruption that had explosive acoustic signals and lava outpouring on the seafloor.

The second study was by Scott Nooner and William Chadwick Jr. describing the observatory predicting the 2015 Axial Seamount eruption in advance on the basis of seafloor deformation.

Scott Nooner, a geologist at the University of North Carolina described how researchers predicted an eruption for 2015. That was after factoring in the rupture in recent times: 1998 and 2011.

Before each eruption, it was noticed that the seafloor would inflate like a balloon with magma filling up the chamber to a tipping point showing signs of eruption, deflation, and refilling. “We’ve been measuring the deformation over this volcano for a long time,” said Nooner.

Noting that an eruption in 1998 led to the seafloor dropping about 3.5 meters (11.5 feet), Nooner said it was a really large drop in the surface elevation of the volcano though it slowly started inflating again. The volcano surface has been rising by 6 inches per year until the 2011 eruption and the rate of inflation increased to a little under 24 inches per year.

Next Eruption In 2019?

Using data from the past eruptions, Nooner predicted that the volcano would erupt in 2015, which it actually did. Now the volcano is again re-inflating at a rate of 1998 to 2011 phase and a rapid inflation happened in between 2011 and 2015. Nooner estimates the current rate is about 19 inches per year. If that persists, the next eruption may happen in about three years. The results were presented at a news briefing on the occasion of the American Geophysical Union meeting.

Useful Data From Axial Mount Study

Prior to the eruption, there has been a spurt in minor earthquakes near the volcano from less than 500 a day to 2,000 a day. The seismic sensors and seafloor mapping backed by an entire range of instruments at the underwater observatory have made Axial Seamount one of the world’s most well-studied volcanoes.

This is despite the mess of undersea volcanoes, noted research partner David Clague, a volcanologist at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, California. The mess implies that volcanic eruption made the water cloudy and the water column is full of small particles emitted during the rupture including glass pieces and bacteria from the subsurface. “When this volcano erupts the next time, we will have an even larger data set than we have now,” said co-author William Wilcock, a geologist at the University of Washington.

One lateral benefit will be a better understanding of volcanic activity and the scope for applying the research to volcanoes on land. Nooner is confident that the models used for Axial Seamount eruption forecast, many months in advance, could be applied for terrestrial volcanoes as well.


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