Letter

Nature 441, 494-497 (25 May 2006) | doi:10.1038/nature04762; Received 3 October 2005; Accepted 22 March 2006

Long-term eruptive activity at a submarine arc volcano

Robert W. Embley1, William W. Chadwick, Jr1,2, Edward T. Baker3, David A. Butterfield3,4, Joseph A. Resing3,4, Cornel E.J. de Ronde5, Verena Tunnicliffe6, John E. Lupton1, S. Kim Juniper7, Kenneth H. Rubin8, Robert J. Stern9, Geoffrey T. Lebon3,4, Ko-ichi Nakamura10, Susan G. Merle1,2, James R. Hein11, Douglas A. Wiens12 and Yoshihiko Tamura13

Three-quarters of the Earth's volcanic activity is submarine, located mostly along the mid-ocean ridges, with the remainder along intraoceanic arcs and hotspots at depths varying from greater than 4,000 m to near the sea surface. Most observations and sampling of submarine eruptions have been indirect, made from surface vessels or made after the fact1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. We describe here direct observations and sampling of an eruption at a submarine arc volcano named NW Rota-1, located 60 km northwest of the island of Rota (Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands). We observed a pulsating plume permeated with droplets of molten sulphur disgorging volcanic ash and lapilli from a 15-m diameter pit in March 2004 and again in October 2005 near the summit of the volcano at a water depth of 555 m (depth in 2004). A turbid layer found on the flanks of the volcano (in 2004) at depths from 700 m to more than 1,400 m was probably formed by mass-wasting events related to the eruption. Long-term eruptive activity has produced an unusual chemical environment and a very unstable benthic habitat exploited by only a few mobile decapod species. Such conditions are perhaps distinctive of active arc and hotspot volcanoes.

  1. NOAA/PMEL, 2115 SE O.S.U. Drive, Newport, Oregon 97365-5258, USA
  2. CIMRS, Oregon State University, Oregon 97365-5258, USA
  3. NOAA/PMEL, 7600 Sand Pt Way, NE, Seattle, Washington 98115-6349, USA
  4. JISAO, University of Washington, Washington 98115-6349, USA
  5. Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences, 30 Gracefield Road, PO Box 31–312, Lower Hutt, New Zealand
  6. Department of Biology/School of Earth and Ocean Sciences, University of Victoria, PO Box 3020, Victoria, British Columbia V8W 3N5, Canada
  7. GEOTOP Research Centre; Université du Québec à Montréal, PO Box 8888 Montréal, Québec H3C 3P8, Canada
  8. Department of Geology and Geophysics, University of Hawaii, 1680 East-West Road, Honolulu, Hawaii 96822, USA
  9. Geosciences Department, University of Texas at Dallas, 2601 N. Floyd Road, Richardson, Texas 75083-0688, USA
  10. National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, AIST Tsukuba Central 7, 1-1, Higashi 1-Chome Tsukuba, Ibaraki 305-8567, Japan
  11. US Geological Survey, 345 Middlefield Road, MS 999, Menlo Park, California 94025-3591, USA
  12. Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Washington University, 1 Brookings Drive, St Louis, Missouri 63130-4899, USA
  13. (IFREE) Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology, 237-0061 2-15 Natsushima-chou, Yokosuka-shi, Kanagawa-ken, Japan

Correspondence to: Robert W. Embley1 Correspondence and requests for materials should be addressed to R.E. (Email: robert.w.embley@noaa.gov).

Received 3 October 2005 | Accepted 22 March 2006

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