Oceanography The Official Magazine of
The Oceanography Society
Volume 23 Issue 01

View Issue TOC
Volume 23, No. 1
Pages 166 - 173


Seamount Subduction and Earthquakes

By Anthony B. Watts , Anthony A.P. Koppers , and David P. Robinson  
Jump to
Article Abstract Citation References Copyright & Usage
Article Abstract

Seamounts are ubiquitous features of the seafloor that form part of the fabric of oceanic crust. When a seamount enters a subduction zone, it has a major affect on forearc morphology, the uplift history of the island arc, and the structure of the downgoing slab. It is not known, however, what controls whether a seamount is accreted to the forearc or carried down into the subduction zone and recycled into the deep mantle. Of societal interest is the role seamounts play in geohazards, in particular, the generation of large earthquakes.


Watts, A.B., A.A.P. Koppers, and D.P. Robinson. 2010. Seamount subduction and earthquakes. Oceanography 23(1):166–173, https://doi.org/10.5670/oceanog.2010.68.


Bangs, N.L.B., S.P.S. Gulick, and T.H. Shipley. 2006. Seamount subduction erosion in the Nankai Trough and its potential impact on the seismogenic zone. Geology 34:701–704.

Bilek, S.L., S.Y. Schwartz, and H.R. DeShon. 2003. Control of seafloor roughness on earthquake rupture behavior. Geological Society of America Bulletin 31:455–458.

Canales, J.P., J.J. Danobeitia, and A.B. Watts. 2000. Wide-angle seismic constraints on the internal structure of Tenerife, Canary Islands. Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research 103:65–81.

Cloos, M. 1993. Lithospheric buoyancy and collisional orogenesis: Subduction of oceanic plateaus, continental margins, island arcs, spreading ridges, and seamounts. Geological Society of America Bulletin 105:715–737.

Cloos, M., and R.L. Shreve. 1996. Shear-zone thickness and the seismicity of Chilean- and Marianas-type subduction zones. Geology 24:107–110.

Contreras-Reyes, E., I. Grevemeyer, A.B. Watts, L. Planert, E.R. Flueh, and C. Peirce. 2010. Crustal intrusion beneath the Louisville hotspot track. Earth and Planetary Science Letters 289:323–333.

Coulbourn, W.T., P.J. Hill, and D.D. Bergersen. 1989. Machias seamount, Western Samoa: Sediment remobilization, tectonic dismemberment and subduction of a guyot. Geo-Marine Letters 9:119–125.

Das, S., and B.V. Kostrov. 1990. Inversion for seismic slip rate history and distribution with stabilizing constraints: Application to the 1986 Andreanof Islands earthquake. Journal of Geophysical Research 95:6,899–6,913.

Das, S., and A.B. Watts. 2009. Effect of subducting seafloor topography on the rupture characteristics of great subduction zone earthquakes. Pp. 103–118 in Subduction Zone Geodynamics. S. Lallemand and F. Funiceillo, eds, Springer-Verlag, Berlin-Heidelberg.

Dominguez, S., S.E. Lallemand, J. Malavieille, and R. von Huene. 1998. Upper plate deformation associated with seamount subduction. Tectonophysics 293:207–224.

DuBois, J., C. Deplus, M. Diament, J. Daniel, and J.-Y. Collot. 1988. Subduction of the Bougainville seamount (Vanuatu): Mechanical and geodynamic implications. Tectonophysics 149:111–119.

DuBois, J., J. Launay, and J. Recy. 1975. Some new evidence on lithospheric bulges close to island arcs. Tectonophysics 26:189–196.

Fryer, P., and N.C. Smoot. 1985. Processes of seamount subduction in the Mariana and Izu-Bonin trenches. Marine Geology 64:77–90.

Got, J.-L., V. Monteiller, J. Monteux, R. Hassani, and P. Okubo. 2008. Deformation and rupture of oceanic crust may control growth of Hawaiian volcanoes. Nature 451:453–456.

Hillier, J.K., and A.B. Watts. 2007. Global distribution of seamounts from ship-track bathymetry data. Geophysical Research Letters 34, L13304, https://doi.org/10.1029/2007GL029874.

Husen, S., E. Kissling, and R. Quintero. 2002. Tomographic evidence for a subducted seamount beneath the Gulf of Nicoya, Costa Rica: The cause of the 1990 Mw = 7.0 Gulf of Nicoya earthquake. Geophysical Research Letters 29, 8, https://doi.org/10.1029/2001GL014045.

Kanamori, H. 1971. Great earthquakes at island arcs and the lithosphere. Tectonophysics 12:187–198.

Kelleher, J., and W. McCann. 1976. Buoyant zones, great earthquakes, and some predictions. Journal of Geophysical Research 81:4,885–4,896.

Kodaira, S., N. Takahashi, A. Nakanishi, S. Miura, and Y. Kaneda. 2000. Subducted seamount imaged in the rupture zone of the 1946 Nankaido earthquake. Science 289:104–106.

Koppers, A.A.P., and A.B. Watts. 2010. Intraplate seamounts as a window into deep Earth processes. Oceanography 23(1):42–57.

Lallemand, S., R. Culotta, and R. von Huene. 1989. Subduction of the Daiichi Kashima seamount in the Japan trench. Tectonophysics 160:231–247.

Lallemand, S., and X. Le Pichon. 1987. The Coulomb wedge model applied to the subduction of seamounts in the Japan trench. Geology 15:1,065–1,069.

Laursen, J., D.W. Scholl, and R. von Huene. 2002. Neotectonic deformation of the central Chile margin: Deepwater forearc basin formation in response to hot spot ridge and seamount subduction. Tectonics 21, https://doi.org/10.1029/2001TC901023.

Lonsdale, P. 1986. A multibeam reconnaissance of the Tonga trench axis and its intersection with the Louisville guyot chain. Marine Geophysical Researches 8:295–327.

Mochizuki, K., T. Yamada, M. Shinohara, Y. Yamanaka, and T. Kanazawa. 2008. Weak interplate coupling by seamounts and repeating M~7 earthquakes. Science 321:1,194–1,197.

Mogi, A., and K. Nishizawa. 1980. Breakdown of a seamount on the slope of the Japan Trench. Proceedings of the Japan Academy 56:257–259.

Nishizawa, A., K. Kaneda, N. Watanabe, and M. Oikawa. 2009. Seismic structure of the subducting seamounts on the trench axis: Erimo Seamount and Daiichi-Kashima Seamount, northern and southern ends of the Japan trench. Earth, Planets, and Space 61:e5–e8.

Oakley, A.J., B. Taylor, and G.F. Moore. 2008. Pacific Plate subduction beneath the central Mariana and Izu-Bonin forearcs: New insights from an old margin. Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems 9, https://doi.org/10.1029/2007/GC001820.

Oakley, A.J., B. Taylor, P. Fryer, G.F. Moore, A.M. Goodcliffe, and J.K. Morgan. 2007. Emplacement, growth, and gravitational deformation of serpentinite seamounts on the Mariana forearc. Geophysical Journal International https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1365-1246X.2007.03451.x.

Robinson, D.P., S. Das, and A.B. Watts. 2006. Earthquake rupture stalled by a subducting fracture zone. Science 312:1,203–1,205.

Sage, F., J.-Y. Colot, and C.R. Ranero. 2006. Interplate patchiness and subduction-erosion mechanisms: Evidence from depth-migrated seismic images at the central Ecuador convergent margin. Geology 34:997–1,000.

Scholz, C.H., and C. Small. 1997. The effect of seamount subduction on seismic coupling. Geology 25:487–490.

Searle, M.P. 1983. Alkaline peridotite, pyroxenite, and gabbroic intrusions in the Oman mountains, Arabia. Canadian Journal of Earth Science 21:396–406.

Staudigel, H., and D.A. Clague. 2010. The geological history of deep-sea volcanoes: Biosphere, hydrosphere, and lithosphere interactions. Oceanography 23(1):58–71.

von Huene, R., C.R. Ranero, and W. Weinrebe. 2000. Quaternary convergent margin tectonics of Costa Rica, segmentation of the Cocos Plate, and central American volcanism. Tectonics 19:314–334.

von Huene, R., T. Reston, N. Kukowski, G.A. Dehghani, W. Weinrebe, and the IMERSE Working Group. 1997. A subducting seamount beneath the Mediterranean Ridge. Tectonophysics 271:249–261.

Wells, R.E., C.S. Weaver, and R.J. Blakely. 2009. Fore-arc migration in Cascadia and its neotectonic significance. Geology 26:759–762.

Wessel, P., D.T. Sandwell, and S.-S. Kim. 2010. The global seamount census. Oceanography 23(1):24–33.

Wheat, C.G., P. Fryer, K. Takai, and S. Hulme. 2010. Spotlight 9: South Chamarro Seamount. Oceanography 23(1):174–175.

Woodroffe, C.D., R. McLean, H. Polach, and E. Wallensky. 1990. Sea level and coral atolls: Late Holocene emergence in the Indian Ocean. Geology 18:62–66.

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.