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.

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


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.

This is a preview of subscription content

Access options

Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.

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.


  1. Bjornsson, A., Johnsen, G., Sigurdsson, S., Thorbergsson, G. & Tryggvason, E. Rifting of the plate boundary in North Iceland 1975–1978. J. Geophys. Res. 84, 3029–3038 (1979).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Tryggvason, E. Widening of the Krafla fissure swarm during the 1975–1981 volcano-tectonic episode. Bull. Volcanol. 47, 47–69 (1984).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Pedersen, R., Sigmundsson, F. & Einarsson, P. Controlling factors on earthquake swarms associated with magmatic intrusions; Constraints from Iceland. J. Volcanol. Geotherm. Res. 162, 73–80 (2007).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Ebinger, C. et al. Length and timescales of rift faulting and magma intrusion: The afar rifting cycle from 2005 to present. Ann. Rev. Earth Planet. Sci. 38, 439–466 (2010).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Einarsson, P. & Brandsdottir, B. Seismological evidence for lateral magma intrusion during the July 1978 deflation of the Krafla Volcano in NE Iceland. J. Geophys. Res. 47, 160–165 (1980).

    Google Scholar 

  6. Brandsdottir, B. & Einarsson, P. Seismic activity associated with the September 1977 deflation of the Krafla central volcano in northeastern Iceland. J. Volcanol. Geotherm. Res. 6, 197–212 (1979).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Tryggvason, E. Surface deformation at the Krafla Volcano, North Iceland, 1982–1992. Bull. Volcanol. 56, 98–107 (1994).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Belachew, M. et al. Comparison of dike intrusions in an incipient seafloor spreading segment in Afar, Ethiopia: Seismicity perspectives. J. Geophys. Res. 116, B06405 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Dziak, R. P. & Fox, C. G. Long-term seismicity and ground deformation at Axial Volcano, Juan de Fuca Ridge. Geophys. Res. Lett. 26, 3641–3644 (1999).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Fox, C. G., Chadwick, W. W. & Embley, R. W. Direct observation of a submarine volcanic eruption from a sea-floor instrument caught in a lava flow. Nature 412, 727–729 (2001).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Tolstoy, M. et al. A sea-floor spreading event captured by seismometers. Science 314, 1920–1922 (2006).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. 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  Google Scholar 

  13. Chadwick, W. W., Nooner, S. L., Zumberge, M. A., Embley, R. W. & Fox, C. G. Vertical deformation monitoring at Axial Seamount since its 1998 eruption using deep-sea pressure sensors. J. Volcanol. Geotherm. Res. 150, 313–327 (2006).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Haxel, J. H., Dziak, R. P., Matusmoto, H., Fowler, M. J. & Chadwick, W. W. Jr A time history of microseismicity leading to volcanic eruption at Axial Volcano, Juan de Fuca Ridge. Abstract V14C-06 presented at 2011 Fall Meeting, AGU, San Francisco, California, 5–9 Dec. (2011).

  15. Nooner, S. L. & Chadwick, W. W. Volcanic inflation measured in the caldera of Axial Seamount: Implications for magma supply and future eruptions. Geochem. Geophys. Geosyst. 10, Q02002 (2009).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Chadwick, W. W., Nooner, S. L., Butterfield, D. A. & Lilley, M. D. Seafloor deformation and forecasts of the April 2011 eruption of Axial Seamount. Nature Geosci. (2012).

  17. Tolstoy, M., Vernon, F. L., Orcutt, J. A. & Wyatt, F. K. Breathing of the seafloor: Tidal correlations of seismicity at Axial volcano. Geology 30, 503–506 (2002).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Dzurisin, D. A comprehensive approach to monitoring volcano deformation as a window on the eruption cycle. Rev. Geophys. 41, 1001 (2003).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Caress, D. W. et al. Repeat bathymetric surveys at 1-metre resolution of lava flows erupted at Axial Seamount in April 2011, Nature Geosci. (2012).

  20. Rubin, A. M. Dike ascent in partially molten rock. J. Geophys. Res. 103, 901–920 (1998).

    Google Scholar 

  21. Chouet, B. A. Long-period volcano seismicity: its source and use in eruption forecasting. Nature 380, 309–316 (1996).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Delaney, P. T. & Pollard, D. D. Solidification of basaltic magma during flow in a dike. Am. J. Sci. 282, 856–885 (1982).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. International Seismological Centre On-line Bulletin (Internatl. Seis. Cent., 2010).

  24. Mastin, L. G. & Pollard, D. D. Surface deformatin and shallow dike intrusion processes at Inyo Craters, Long Valley California. J. Geophys. Res. 93, 13221–13235 (1988).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. West, M., Menke, W., Tolstoy, M., Webb, S. & Sohn, R. Magma storage beneath Axial volcano on the Juan de Fuca mid-ocean ridge. Nature 413, 833–836 (2001).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Carbotte, S. M. et al. Variable crustal structure along the Juan de Fuca Ridge: Influence of on-axis hotspots and absolute plate motions. Geochem. Geophys. Geosyst. 9, Q08001 (2008).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Dziak, R. P. et al. Rapid dike emplacement leads to eruptions and hydrothermal plume release during seafloor spreading events. Geology 35, 579–582 (2007).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. University of Washington (Web Page about the Ocean Observatories Initiative’s Regional Scale Nodes cabled observatory at Axial Seamount) (2012).

  29. Endo, E. T. & Murray, T. Real-time seismic amplitude measurement (RSAM): A volcano monitoring and prediction tool. Bull. Volcanol. 53, 533–545 (1991).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Sohn, R. A., Barclay, A. H. & Webb, S. C. Microearthquake patterns following the 1998 eruption of Axial Volcano, Juan de Fuca Ridge: Mechanical relaxation and thermal strain. J. Geophys. Res. 109, B01101 (2004).

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references


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.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations



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.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to R. P. Dziak.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

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).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

Further reading


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