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Seismic precursors and magma ascent before the April 2011 eruption at Axial Seamount

Abstract

Volcanoes at spreading centres on land often exhibit seismicity and ground inflation months to years before an eruption, caused by a gradual influx of magma to the source reservoir1,2,3,4. Deflation and seismicity can occur on time scales of hours to days, and result from the injection of magma into adjacent rift zones5,6,7,8. Volcanoes at submarine rift zones, such as Axial Seamount in the northeast Pacific Ocean, have exhibited similar behaviour9,10,11,12, but a direct link between seismicity, seafloor deformation and magma intrusion has never been demonstrated. Here we present recordings from ocean-bottom hydrophones and an established array of bottom-pressure recorders that reveal patterns of both microearthquakes and seafloor deformation at Axial Seamount on the Juan de Fuca Ridge, before it erupted in April 2011. Our observations show that the rate of seismicity increased steadily during a period of several years, leading up to an intrusion and eruption of magma that began on 6 April 2011. We also detected a sudden increase in seismo-acoustic energy about 2.6 h before the eruption began. Our data indicate that access to real-time seismic data, projected to be available in the near future, might facilitate short-term forecasting and provide sufficient lead-time to prepare in situ instrumentation before future intrusion and eruption events.

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Figure 1: Map of Axial Seamount and instrument locations.
Figure 2: Histogram of Axial Seamount earthquakes.
Figure 3: Time series and spectrograms of April 2011 earthquake swarm.
Figure 4: Seismic and geodetic records of magma ascent.

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Acknowledgements

This work was supported by the NOAA Vents Program, the National Science Foundation (grant OCE-0725605), with support from the Pacific Marine Environmental Lab’s Engineering Development Division. The authors wish to thank T-K. Lau for development of the analysis software and J. Braunmiller for discussions regarding earthquake relocation. Outstanding logistical support for this work was provided by the crews of RV Atlantis, RV Thompson and ROV Jason. PMEL contribution number 3793.

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M.J.F. and H.M. developed, prepared and deployed the OBHs. J.H.H., D.R.B. and R.P.D. carried out hydrophone data analysis. W.W.C. and S.L.N. deployed and analysed bottom-pressure data. W.W.C. and D.A.B. were chief scientists on deployment and recovery cruises. R.P.D. wrote the paper, with editing from the other authors.

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Correspondence to R. P. Dziak.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Dziak, R., Haxel, J., Bohnenstiehl, D. et al. Seismic precursors and magma ascent before the April 2011 eruption at Axial Seamount. Nature Geosci 5, 478–482 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1038/ngeo1490

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