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Evidence of recent volcanic activity on the ultraslow-spreading Gakkel ridge


Seafloor spreading is accommodated by volcanic and tectonic processes along the global mid-ocean ridge system. As spreading rate decreases the influence of volcanism also decreases1,2,3,4, and it is unknown whether significant volcanism occurs at all at ultraslow spreading rates (<1.5 cm yr-1). Here we present three-dimensional sonar maps of the Gakkel ridge, Earth's slowest-spreading mid-ocean ridge, located in the Arctic basin under the Arctic Ocean ice canopy. We acquired this data using hull-mounted sonars attached to a nuclear-powered submarine, the USS Hawkbill. Sidescan data for the ultraslow-spreading (1.0 cm yr-1) eastern Gakkel ridge depict two young volcanoes covering approximately 720 km2 of an otherwise heavily sedimented axial valley. The western volcano coincides with the average location of epicentres for more than 250 teleseismic events detected5,26 in 1999, suggesting that an axial eruption was imaged shortly after its occurrence. These findings demonstrate that eruptions along the ultraslow-spreading Gakkel ridge are focused at discrete locations and appear to be more voluminous and occur more frequently than was previously thought.

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Figure 1: SCAMP sidescan data for the eastern Gakkel ridge.
Figure 2: Three-dimensional view of the eastern volcano looking from east to west.
Figure 3: Three-dimensional view of the western volcano looking from west to east.
Figure 4: SCAMP sub-bottom data for the western and eastern volcanoes show no evidence of sediment layering on top of the constructs, although layers are apparent adjacent to the flanks of both highs.


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We thank the captain (R. Perry), the officers and crew of the USS Hawkbill and the scientists and engineers who sailed during SCICEX-98 and SCICEX-99. We also thank D. Chayes, R. Anderson, D. Fornari and K. Macdonald for comments. R. Davis and B. Appelgate provided software and data assistance. P. Johnson created the three-dimensional renderings. This work is the result of M. Langseth's vision. SCAMP was funded by the National Science Foundation, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University, the Palisades Geophysical Institution and the governments of Canada, Norway and Sweden. This research was supported by the National Science Foundation.

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Correspondence to M. H. Edwards.

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Edwards, M., Kurras, G., Tolstoy, M. et al. Evidence of recent volcanic activity on the ultraslow-spreading Gakkel ridge. Nature 409, 808–812 (2001).

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