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Long-term eruptive activity at a submarine arc volcano


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.

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Figure 1: Bathymetry of NW Rota-1 volcano and hydrothermal plumes.
Figure 2: Bathymetry and location map of the summit ridge of NW Rota-1 volcano with locations of features discussed in text.
Figure 3: Images of the sea floor at NW-Rota-1.


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The 2004 Submarine Ring of Fire Program was supported by the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration, the Canadian Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, and the NOAA VENTS Program. The MARGINS Program of the National Science Foundation provided support for the May 2004 CTD operations from the RV Wecoma. We are grateful for the support by the RV Thomas G. Thompson, operated by the University of Washington, the Canadian Scientific Submersible Scientific Support Facility who operated the ROPOS ROV on the 2004 expedition, and the Japan Agency for Marine, Earth Science and Technology (JAMSTEC) who operate the RV Natsushima and the Hyper-Dolphin ROV and, funded the Japanese science team in 2005 (cruise NT-05-17). S. Ristau, R. Greene, S. Walker, L. Evans and K. Roe provided support at sea. We also thank our colleagues T. Urabe and J. Ishibashi for their collaboration, which helped make the 2004 expedition to the Mariana Arc possible. This publication is partially funded by the Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and Ocean (JISAO) under an NOAA Cooperative Agreement and by the Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory.

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Correspondence to Robert W. Embley.

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Embley, R., Chadwick, W., Baker, E. et al. Long-term eruptive activity at a submarine arc volcano. Nature 441, 494–497 (2006).

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