NEWPORT, Ore. – About 250 miles off the Oregon coast, scientists have for the first time ever successfully forecast an eruption of an undersea volcano.
The Axial Seamount, an undersea volcano that is one of the most active and intensely studied seamounts in the world, has recently erupted. Scientists from Oregon State University, the University of Washington and Columbia University were responsible for discovering the new eruption.
Bill Chadwick, an Oregon State University geologist, and Scott Nooner, of Columbia University, have been monitoring Axial Seamount for more than a decade. In 2006 the two published a paper in the Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research in which they predicted that Axial would erupt before the year 2014.
“Volcanoes are notoriously difficult to forecast and much less is known about undersea volcanoes than those on land, so the ability to monitor Axial Seamount, and determine that it was on a path toward an impending eruption is pretty exciting,” said Chadwick, who was chief scientist on the recent expedition.
The discovery of the new eruption came on July 28, when Chadwick, Nooner and University of Washington colleagues Dave Butterfield and Marvin Lilley led an expedition to Axial aboard the R/V Atlantis, operated by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Using Jason, a remotely operated robotic vehicle (ROV), they discovered a new lava flow on the seafloor that was not present a year ago.
“It’s funny,” Chadwick said. “When we first arrived on the seafloor, we thought we were in the wrong place because it looked so completely different. We couldn’t find our markers or monitoring instruments or other distinctive features on the bottom. Once we figured out that an eruption had happened, we were pretty excited.
For more information about this discovery, click here for the entire press release.
For undersea video of the expedition, follow the links below:
The Boca Snowblower Vent on Axial Seamount - Shimmering hot water exits from this new “snowblower” vent named Boca in the new lava flow. Such vents are only seen right after eruptions and are named for the white particles that spew out of the seafloor, evidence of a vast microbial bloom. (Video Credit: Dave Butterfield, University of Washington; copyright Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)
New lava below the arch - New lava erupted in April 2011 flows under an archway formed in an older lava flow at Axial Seamount. (Video Credit: Bill Chadwick, Oregon State University; copyright Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)
An ocean-bottom hydrophone chain - The chain from an ocean-bottom hydrophone instrument mooring is seen coming out of the seafloor where the new lava buried it in April 2011. The front of the ROV Jason is visible at the right. (Video Credit: Bill Chadwick, Oregon State University; copyright Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)
New lava sample - The manipulator arm on the ROV Jason takes a sample of the new lava flow (upper left) that emerged from an April 2011 eruption and was discovered during dives at the site in July. The lava will be analyzed to determine its chemical composition. (Video Credit: Bill Chadwick, Oregon State University; copyright Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)