Underwater Volcano Erupting Off Coast of Oregon

underwater volcano

An underwater volcano 300 miles off the coast of Oregon was believed to have erupted last week. The news that an eruption may have occurred created exciting news for scientists who, since last fall, have been conducting research on a ‘submarine’ volcano. The active volcano, known as Axial Seamount, is located off the Northwest coast of the United States.

The Axial Seamount had been monitored for several years beginning in the mid-1990’s prior to the volcano erupting in 1998. The monitoring project called the New Millennium Observatory (NeMo), used vehicles which were operated remotely, and contained tilt recorders, bottom pressure detectors, heat detectors, geophysical detectors, hydrophones, and chemical sampling instruments, which were used to measure the volcano’s activity and collect data. The information collected helped the scientists to better understand the eruption cycles of underwater volcanos and how they evolved.

Axial’s was found to be an ideal location to the scientists because since it was not far from the coast of the U.S., it served as a convenient base to monitor underwater volcano activity. NeMo conducted cruises with the help of funding from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation (GBMF), and the National Science Foundation (NSF), and deployed oceanographic drifters around the area in order to monitor the underwater volcano’s eruption cycles off the coast of Oregon.

After the volcano was monitored for a number of years, another eruption took place in 2011 and new research was conducted with more advanced technology. This technology provided live realtime coverage to the researchers, and monitored its expansion which helped the scientists predict that the volcano would once again erupt in 2015. Since having made this prediction, the scientists had monitored the underwater volcano more closely. When the devices reportedly lit up and sounds went off, scientists were ecstatic over the possibility that their predictions had come true. Geologist Bill Chadwick of Oregon State University reported that the seafloor started to drop rapidly and over the course of a week, appeared to have been lowered by eight feet. Magma was moving around accompanied by small ruptures in the earth’s surface.

Following the report that the Axial underwater volcano off the coast of Oregon had possibly erupted, a gathering in Seattle was convened consisting of more than 80 scientists from around the world. They discussed this exciting new development and closely watched the realtime footage made possible by their new advanced technology. What took the group by surprise, however, was that on April 23 after the meeting ended, new activity was detected. About 8,000 mini-earthquakes were seen within a 24 hour period, and the volcano’s caldera, which up until then was expanding, started to deflate as magma made its way toward the surface.

William Wilcock of the University of Washington, who detected the movement commented that it was not yet clear whether the oscillation of the underwater volcano and earthquakes were due to a full scale eruption. Although there was some emission of lava, not much more can be determined without the aid of a ship. Scientists may be travel back to Axial as early as this May with the hope that their predictions of the underwater volcano off the coast of Oregon erupting were accurate. If they were, it will provide a huge breakthrough in the study of seismic activity.

By Bill Ades

Oregon Public Broadcasting
The Seattle Times
Columbia University Earth Institute
Oregon State University
Photo by NSF/OOI, University of Washington, CSSF – Creativecommons Flickr License

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