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Active submarine eruption of boninite in the northeastern Lau Basin

Abstract

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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Figure 1: Location maps for West Mata Volcano.
Figure 2: Properties of hydrothermal plume samples collected above the West Mata eruption in November 2008.
Figure 3: Eruptive modes observed at West Mata.
Figure 4: Whole rock composition for samples from the West Mata eruption and regional data from the northern Lau Basin 50 and the Tonga Arc 10.
Figure 5: Sound frequency and intensity from a moored hydrophone deployed 48 km from West Mata at 23°17′ S×174°9′ W from 4 January to 9 May 2009.

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Acknowledgements

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.

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J.A.R. was the Chief Scientist and lead author. K.H.R. described and curated the rock samples, analysed whole rock compositions and ages, and conducted the thin section analyses. R.W.E. was the co-chief scientist, collected and interpreted seafloor acoustic data, and made geological interpretations. J.E.L. was responsible for Helium analysis. E.T.B. conducted hydrographic operations. R.P.D. collected and interpreted moored acoustic data. T.B. conducted Hydrogen analysis. M.D.L. was responsible for gas geochemistry of fluids. J.A.H. made microbiological measurements of fluids. T.M.S. characterized shrimp populations. D.A.B. collected and analysed fluids directly above the eruptive vents. D.A.C. made volcanological observations and participated in the AUV mapping effort. N.S.K. and A.S. conducted H2O, CO2 and some Cl, F and S analysis of the lavas. S.G.M. collected multibeam data and produced the maps used here. N.J.B. conducted chemical analyses on the hydrocast samples. P.J.M. conducted major element and Cl, F and S analysis of the glass samples. D.W.C. processed multibeam data from the AUV. S.L.W. processed hydrographic data. R.E.D. analysed microbial mats. J.P.C. conducted DOC analyses. A-L.R. made microbial measurements of fluids. H.T. conducted AUV operations. Most of the authors participated at sea in the research expedition.

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Correspondence to Joseph A. Resing or Nicole S. Keller.

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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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