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New Research on Submarine Volcano May Help Solve Threats From Land-Based Volcanoes

By Rose C
Dec 20, 2016 10:16 AM EST

Geologists from Oregon State University and the University of North Carolina revealed new insights on studying the processes of land-based volcanoes in the annual American Geophysical Union fall meeting in San Francisco.

The research, funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), provide a window into the workings of these undersea volcanic processes that are more difficult to study on land.

"Axial Seamount is a great natural laboratory for learning about volcanic eruptions," said William Chadwick, one of the lead authors from NOAA and Oregon State. "It has a simple structure, is frequently active, but it doesn't pose a hazard to people."

The three new research papers published detail the workings of the most active undersea volcano in the northeast Pacific Ocean, which erupted in 1998, 2011 and 2015 -- the latter of which was reported seven months earlier by researchers from Oregon State University, NOAA's Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory, and the University of North Carolina at Wilmington.

Accordingly, co-author William Chadwick explained that the successful forecast was due to the gradual inflation of the seafloor created by intruding magma and two decades worth of consistent monitoring.

"We're beginning to really understand how this volcano works and some of these lessons can be applied to other volcanoes in a general way," Chadwick said in a report published in "During its eruptions, Axial's seafloor drops suddenly by about eight feet, and then over the next several years it gradually rises back up. When it re-inflates to a certain level, the volcano is almost ready to erupt again."

NOAA established the New Millennium Seafloor Observatory at Axial Seamount in 1996, and partners at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute joined the research effort in 2006. The National Science Foundation's Ocean Observatories Initiative offsite link Cabled Array launched in late 2014, has added a state-of-the-art seafloor observatory with monitoring instruments that provide real-time, high-resolution data transmitted by fiber optic cable.

Director of the National Science Foundation's Division of Ocean Sciences Rick Murray explained that the "instruments used by Ocean Observatories Initiative scientists are giving us new opportunities to understand the inner workings of this volcano, and of the mechanisms that trigger volcanic eruptions in many environments." He added that "the information will help us predict the behavior of active volcanoes around the globe." 

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