Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

  • Letter
  • Published:

Hydrological response to a seafloor spreading episode on the Juan de Fuca ridge


Seafloor hydrothermal systems are known to respond to seismic and magmatic activity along mid-ocean ridges, often resulting in locally positive changes in hydrothermal discharge rate, temperature and microbial activity, and shifts in composition occurring at the time of earthquake swarms and axial crustal dike injections1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10. Corresponding regional effects have also been observed11. Here we present observations of a hydrological response to seafloor spreading activity, which resulted in a negative formation-fluid pressure transient during and after an earthquake swarm in the sediment-sealed igneous crust of the Middle Valley rift of the northernmost Juan de Fuca ridge. The observations were made with a borehole seal and hydrologic observatory originally established in 1991 to study the steady-state pressure and temperature conditions in this hydrothermally active area12,13. The magnitude of the co-seismic response is consistent with the elastic strain that would be expected from the associated earthquakes, but the prolonged negative pressure transient after the swarm is surprising and suggests net co-seismic dilatation of the upper, permeable igneous crust. The rift valley was visited four weeks after the onset of the seismic activity, but no signature of increased hydrothermal activity was detected in the water column. It appears that water, not magma, filled the void left by this spreading episode.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Access options

Buy this article

Prices may be subject to local taxes which are calculated during checkout

Figure 1: Locations of events of the September 2001 seismic swarm in Middle Valley, northern Juan de Fuca Ridge, determined from offshore SoSUS hydroacoustic array tertiary-phase data (error less than 4 km)22, along with earthquake locations determined using Western Canadian Seismic Network data ( and mechanisms (compressional quadrants shown solid) constrained by moment tensor solutions (J.Risteau, personal communication).
Figure 2: Formation pressure measured hourly in ODP Hole 857D before and after the September 2001 seismic swarm.
Figure 3: Simultaneous seismic and hydrologic records of the 2001 Middle Valley earthquake swarm.
Figure 4: Head resulting from an impulse propagating axisymmetrically in a uniform porous medium, calculated at a range of 30 km using a line-source approximation for a hydrologic slug test16, which is valid at large distances from the source well.

Similar content being viewed by others


  1. Baker, E. T. et al. Hydrothermal event plumes from the CoAxial seafloor eruption site, Juan de Fuca Ridge. Geophys. Res. Lett. 22, 151–154 (1995)

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  2. Embley, R. W., Chadwick, W. W., Jonasson, I. R., Butterfield, D. A. & Baker, E. T. Initial results of the rapid response to the 1993 CoAxial event: Relationships between hydrothermal and volcanic processes. Geophys. Res. Lett. 22, 143–146 (1995)

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  3. Von Damm, K. L. et al. Evolution of East Pacific Rise hydrothermal vent fluids following a volcanic eruption. Nature 395, 47–50 (1995)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Dziak, R. P., Fox, C. G. & Schreiner, A. E. The June-July 1993 seismoacoustic event at CoAxial Segment, Juan de Fuca Ridge: Evidence for a lateral dike injection. Geophys. Res. Lett. 22, 135–138 (1995)

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  5. Sohn, R. A., Fornari, D. J., Von Damm, K. L., Hildebrand, J. A. & Webb, S. C. Seismic and hydrothermal evidence of a cracking event on the East Pacific Rise crest near 9° 50′ N. Nature 396, 159–161 (1998)

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  6. Delaney, J. R. et al. The quantum event of ocean crustal accretion: Impacts of diking at mid-ocean ridges. Science 281, 222–230 (1998)

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  7. Dziak, R. P. & Fox, C. G. The January 1998 earthquake swarm at Axial Volcano, Juan de Fuca Ridge: Hydroacoustic evidence of seafloor volcanic activity. Geophys. Res. Lett. 26, 3429–3432 (1999)

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  8. Lupton, J. E., Baker, E. T. & Massoth, G. J. Helium, heat, and the generation of hydrothermal event plumes at mid-ocean ridges. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 171, 343–350 (1999)

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  9. Johnson, H. P. et al. Earthquake-induced changes in a hydrothermal system at the Endeavour Segment, Juan de Fuca Ridge. Nature 407, 174–177 (2000)

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  10. Lilley, M. D., Butterfield, D. A., Lupton, J. E. & Olson, E. J. Magmatic events can produce rapid changes in hydrothermal vent chemistry. Nature 422, 878–881 (2003)

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  11. Davis, E. E., Wang, K., Thomson, R. E., Becker, K. & Cassidy, J. F. An episode of seafloor spreading and associated plate deformation inferred from crustal fluid pressure transients. J. Geophys. Res. 106, 21953–21963 (2001)

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  12. Davis, E. E., Becker, K., Pettigrew, T., Carson, B. & Macdonald, R. CORK: A hydrologic seal and downhole observatory for deep-ocean boreholes. Proc. ODP Init. Rep. 139, 43–53 (1992)

    Google Scholar 

  13. Davis, E. E. & Becker, K. Formation temperatures and pressures in a sedimented rift hydrothermal system: Ten months of CORK observations, Holes 857D and 858G. Proc. ODP Sci. Res. 139, 649–666 (1994)

    Google Scholar 

  14. Jonsson, S., Segall, P., Pedersen, R. & Bjornsson, G. Post-earthquake ground movements correlated to pore-pressure transients. Nature 424, 179–183 (2003)

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  15. Okada, Y. Internal deformation due to shear and tensile faults in a half space. Bull. Seismol. Soc. Am. 82, 1018–1040 (1992)

    Google Scholar 

  16. Cooper, H. H. Jr, Bredehoeft, J. D. & Papadopulos, I. S. Response of a finite diameter well to an instantaneous charge of water. Wat. Resour. Res. 3, 263–269 (1967)

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  17. Becker, K., Morin, R. H. & Davis, E. E. Permeabilities in the Middle Valley hydrothermal system measured with packer and flowmeter experiments. Proc. ODP. Sci. Res. 139, 613–626 (1994)

    Google Scholar 

  18. Bessler, J. U., Smith, L. & Davis, E. E. Hydrologic and thermal conditions at a sediment/basalt interface: Implications for interpretation of field measurements at Middle Valley. Proc. ODP Sci. Res. 139, 667–678 (1994)

    Google Scholar 

  19. Davis, E. E. & Villinger, H. Tectonic and thermal structure of the Middle Valley sedimented rift, northern Juan de Fuca Ridge. Proc. ODP Init. Rep. 139, 9–41 (1992)

    Google Scholar 

  20. Golden, C. E., Webb, S. C. & Sohn, R. A. Hydrothermal microearthquake swarms beneath active vents at Middle Valley, northern Juan de Fuca Ridge. J. Geophys. Res. 108, doi:10.1029/2001JB000226 (2003)

  21. Wang, K. Applying fundamental principles and mathematical models to understand processes and estimate parameters. In Hydrogeology of the Oceanic Lithosphere (eds Davis, E. E. & Elderfield, H.) (Cambridge Univ. Press, in the press)

  22. Fox, C. G., Dziak, R. P., Marumoto, H. & Schreiner, A. E. Potential for monitoring low-level seismicity on the Juan de Fuca Ridge using military hydrophone arrays. Mar. Technol. Soc. J. 27, 22–30 (1994)

    Google Scholar 

Download references


We acknowledge the Ocean Drilling Program for ongoing support for long-term borehole monitoring experiments, T. Pettigrew, R. Meldrum, and R. Macdonald for engineering assistance, R. Thomson and S. Mihaley for assistance with the post-swarm water-column survey on board CHS Tully, M. Fowler for assistance with SoSUS data processing, and J. Risteau for earthquake moment tensor calculations. Financial support was provided by the US National Science Foundation and by the Geological Survey of Canada.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Earl Davis.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare that they have no competing financial interests.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Davis, E., Becker, K., Dziak, R. et al. Hydrological response to a seafloor spreading episode on the Juan de Fuca ridge. Nature 430, 335–338 (2004).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

This article is cited by


By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing