Repeat bathymetric surveys at 1-metre resolution of lava flows erupted at Axial Seamount in April 2011


At sites with frequent submarine volcanic activity, it is difficult to discern between new and pre-existing lava flows. In particular, the distribution of the fissures from which lava erupts, the routes taken by lava flows and the relationship between the new flows and the pre-existing seafloor bathymetry are often unclear. The volcanic and hydrothermal systems of Axial Seamount submarine volcano in the Pacific Ocean have been studied intensively since eruptions were detected in 1998 (refs 1, 2) and 2011 (ref. 3). Here we combine pre- and post-eruption bathymetric surveys3,4,5,6,7,8, with 1-m lateral resolution and 0.2-m vertical precision, to precisely map the extent and thickness of the lava flows, calculate the volume of lava and unambiguously identify eruptive fissures from the April 2011 eruption. Where the new lava flows extend beyond the boundaries of the repeated surveys, we use shipboard multibeam surveys to map the flows with lower resolution. We show that the eruption produced both sheet and lobate flows associated with high eruption rates and low-eruption-rate pillow mounds. We find that lava flows erupted from new as well as existing fissures and tended to reoccupy existing flow channels. This reoccupation makes it difficult to map submarine flows produced during one eruption without before-and-after bathymetric surveys.

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Figure 1: Post-eruption Axial Seamount bathymetry combining high-resolution bathymetry collected by AUV and EM302 data gridded at 5-m spacing.
Figure 2: High-resolution bathymetry of the summit flows gridded at 1-m resolution.
Figure 3: High-resolution bathymetry for a small area located at the southwest corner of the caldera (see Fig. 1 for location).
Figure 4: High-resolution bathymetry for a small area south of the caldera on the upper south rift zone (see Fig. 1 for location).
Figure 5: Shipboard multibeam bathymetry of the southern ridge, referred to as ridge B in the text, gridded at 5-m spacing.


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A grant from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation to the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute and a contribution from J. Delaney (Univ. Washington) supported acquisition of the 2011 AUV D. Allan B. data. We thank the MBARI AUV operations group consisting of H. Thomas, D. Conlin and D. Thompson for conducting the AUV surveys. We thank the captains and crews of the RVs Zephyr, Western Flyer, Thompson and Atlantis, and the pilots of the ROVs Jason, Doc Ricketts and ROPOS for their flexibility and support as plans changed to collect the 2011 AUV surveys and explore and sample the new flows. The pre-eruptive AUV D. Allan B. data were collected during cruises on the RV Thompson in 2006 and RV Atlantis in 2007 and 2008 under chief scientists B. Chadwick, D. Butterfield and J. Holden, respectively. The 2009 AUV D. Allan B. data collected from the RV Zephyr completed the pre-2011 eruption mapping of the summit and upper south rift zone on Axial Seamount. B.M.D. was supported by NSF award OCE-1061176. PMEL contribution 3791.

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D.W.C. designed the AUV surveys, did most of the data processing, constructed the figures and co-wrote the manuscript and revisions; D.A.C. adjusted ship commitments to collect the 2011 survey data, defined the areas to be covered based on sparse observations of the new flow, designed and ran ROV Doc Ricketts dives to observe and collect the new flows and co-wrote the manuscript and revisions; J.B.P. and J.F.M. assisted with data processing at sea and post-cruise, measured features and calculated areas and volumes of the flows and edited the manuscript; B.M.D. interpreted the pre-eruptive AUV data to define flow units and assisted at sea in 2011; W.W.C. provided the key information to D.A.C. while both were at sea in 2011 that enabled the AUV surveys to take place, calculated flow areas and volumes and contributed to writing the manuscript; A.D. and D.S.K. collected the post-eruption EM302 multibeam data and key ROV ROPOS observations and samples of the new flows.

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Correspondence to David W. Caress.

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Caress, D., Clague, D., Paduan, J. et al. Repeat bathymetric surveys at 1-metre resolution of lava flows erupted at Axial Seamount in April 2011. Nature Geosci 5, 483–488 (2012).

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