Subduction of oceanic crust and the formation of volcanic arcs above the subduction zone are important components in Earth’s geological and geochemical cycles. Subduction consumes and recycles material from the oceanic plates, releasing fluids and gases that enhance magmatic activity, feed hydrothermal systems, generate ore deposits and nurture chemosynthetic biological communities. Among the first lavas to erupt at the surface from a nascent subduction zone are a type classified as boninites. These lavas contain information about the early stages of subduction, yet because most subduction systems on Earth are old and well-established, boninite lavas have previously only been observed in the ancient geological record. Here we observe and sample an active boninite eruption occurring at 1,200 m depth at the West Mata submarine volcano in the northeast Lau Basin, southwest Pacific Ocean. We find that large volumes of H2O, CO2 and sulphur are emitted, which we suggest are derived from the subducting slab. These volatiles drive explosive eruptions that fragment rocks and generate abundant incandescent magma-skinned bubbles and pillow lavas. The eruption has been ongoing for at least 2.5 years and we conclude that this boninite eruption is a multi-year, low-mass-transfer-rate eruption. Thus the Lau Basin may provide an important site for the long-term study of submarine volcanic eruptions related to the early stages of subduction.
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Support from Ridge 2000 and the Margins programs helped in both mounting the expedition and in the selection of cruise participants. The project was funded by the National Science Foundation Marine Geology and Geophysics program (OCE-0929881 to K.H.R., OCE-0929411 to J.A.H., OCE-0930025 and OCE-0934660 to J.A.R., OCE-0934278 to D.A.C., OCE-0934651 to T.M.S. and NOAA-OE to R.W.E.), the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, the NOAA VENTS Program, and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation (AUV operations). Scheduling flexibility on the parts of the R/V T. G. Thompson and the National Deep Submergence Facility was essential for this project take place. Thanks to W. Lange and M. Morin at the Advanced Imaging and Visualization Laboratory at WHOI for video and still imagery. Thanks to Captain Al McClenahan and the crew of the T. G. Thompson, expedition leader Tito Collasius and the Jason team, and to Eric Hellbrand for assistance with the electron microprobe analysis. We thank R. J. Arculus and J. L. Charlou for reviewing this manuscript. This is PMEL Publication #3644, JISAO publication # 1838, and SOEST pub #8372.
The authors declare no competing financial interests.
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Resing, J., Rubin, K., Embley, R. et al. Active submarine eruption of boninite in the northeastern Lau Basin. Nature Geosci 4, 799–806 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1038/ngeo1275
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