Oceanography The Official Magazine of
The Oceanography Society
Volume 31 Issue 01

View Issue TOC
Volume 31, No. 1
Pages 124 - 125


A Tale of Two Eruptions: How Data from Axial Seamount Led to a Discovery on the East Pacific Rise

By Maya Tolstoy , William S.D. Wilcock, Yen Joe Tan, and Felix Waldhauser 
Jump to
Article Abstract Citation References Copyright & Usage
Article Abstract

Mid-ocean ridge volcanism generates two-thirds of the surface of our planet and plays an important role in chemical exchange with the overlying ocean, yet little is known about the dynamic processes involved in mid-ocean ridge eruptions. This is largely due to the costs and challenges of deploying long-term instrumentation on the seafloor, particularly those that transmit data to shore in real time and would allow the scientific community to respond to and coalesce around a particular event. The 2015 eruption at Axial Seamount, which lies along the Juan de Fuca Ridge in the Northeast Pacific Ocean, resulted in the first in situ, real-time geophysical data collected during a mid-ocean ridge eruption. The results provided insights into the caldera fault structure and response to a seafloor-spreading episode, and also confirmed the origin of seismically recorded impulsive signals that are associated with fresh lava erupting onto the seafloor. This confirmation of a seismic signal associated with erupting lava led to revisiting data from an eruption almost a decade earlier and a fundamental new view of seafloor spreading at fast-spreading ridges thousands of kilometers from Axial Seamount. This example illustrates the point that even though cabled observatories are necessarily bound to a specific location, their results can have significant implications for understanding systems that are quite different, in far reaches of the globe.


Tolstoy, M., W.S.D. Wilcock, Y.J. Tan, and F. Waldhauser. 2018. A tale of two eruptions: How data from Axial Seamount led to a discovery on the East Pacific Rise. Oceanography 31(1):124–125, https://doi.org/10.5670/oceanog.2018.118.


Caplan-Auerbach, J., and F. Duennebier. 2001. Seismic and acoustic signals detected at Lō‘ihi Seamount by the Hawai‘i Undersea Geo-Observatory. Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems 2, 1024, https://doi.org/​10.1029/2000GC000113.

Chadwick, W.W., Jr., J.B. Paduan, D.A. Clague, B.M. Dreyer, S.G. Merle, A.M. Bobbitt, D.W. Caress, B.T. Philip, D.S. Kelley, and S.L. Nooner. 2016. Voluminous eruption from a zoned magma body after an increase in supply rate at Axial Seamount. Geophysical Research Letters 43:12,063–12,070, https://doi.org/10.1002/2016GL071327.

Dziak, R.P., D.R. Bohnenstiehl, H. Matsumoto, M. Fowler, J. Haxel, M. Tolstoy, and F. Waldhauser. 2009. January 2006 seafloor-spreading event at 9°50'N, East Pacific Rise: Ridge dike intrusion and transform fault interactions from regional hydroacoustic data. Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems 10, Q06T06, https://doi.org/​10.1029/2009GC002388.

Perfit, M.R., J.R. Cann, D.J. Fornari, J. Engels, D.K. Smith, W.I. Ridley, and M.H. Edwards. 2003. Interaction of sea water and lava during submarine eruptions at mid-ocean ridges. Nature 426:62–65, https://doi.org/10.1038/nature02032.

Schlindwein, V., and C. Riedel. 2010. Location and source mechanism of sound signals at Gakkel ridge, Arctic Ocean: Submarine Strombolian activity in the 1999–2001 volcanic episode. Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems 11, Q01002, https://doi.org/​10.1029/2009GC002706.

Soule, S.A., D.J. Fornari, M.R. Perfit, and K.H. Rubin. 2007. New insights into mid-ocean ridge volcanic processes from the 2005–2006 eruption of the East Pacific Rise, 9°46'N–9°56'N. Geology 35:1,079–1,082, https://doi.org/10.1130/G23924A.1.

Tan, Y.J., M. Tolstoy, F. Waldhauser, and W.S.D. Wilcock. 2016. Dynamics of a seafloor spreading episode at the East Pacific Rise. Nature 540:261–265, https://doi.org/10.1038/nature20116.

Tolstoy, M., J.P. Cowen, E.T. Baker, D.J. Fornari, K.H. Rubin, T.M. Shank, F. Waldhauser, D.R. Bohnenstiehl, D.W. Forsyth, R.C. Holmes, and others. 2006. A sea-floor spreading event captured by seismometers. Science 314(5807):1,920–1,922, https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1133950.

Wilcock, W.S.D., M. Tolstoy, F. Waldhauser, C. Garcia, Y.J. Tan, D.R. Bohnenstiehl, J. Caplan-Auerbach, R.P. Dziak, A.F. Arnulf, and M.E. Mann. 2016. Seismic constraints on caldera dynamics from the 2015 Axial Seamount eruption. Science 354(6318):1,395–1,399, https://doi.org/​10.1126/science.aah5563.

Wilcock, W.S.D., R.P. Dziak, M. Tolstoy, W.W. Chadwick Jr., S.L. Nooner, D.R. Bohnenstiehl, J. Caplan-Auerbach, F. Waldhauser, A.F. Arnulf, C. Baillard, and others. 2018. The recent volcanic history of Axial Seamount: Geophysical insights into past eruption dynamics with an eye toward enhanced observations of future eruptions. Oceanography 31(1):114–123, https://doi.org/​10.5670/​oceanog.2018.117.

Copyright & Usage

This is an open access article made available under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution, and reproduction in any medium or format as long as users cite the materials appropriately, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate the changes that were made to the original content. Images, animations, videos, or other third-party material used in articles are included in the Creative Commons license unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If the material is not included in the article’s Creative Commons license, users will need to obtain permission directly from the license holder to reproduce the material.