An Undersea Volcano May Be Erupting Off The US Northwest Coast

Geologists have good reason to believe that an active underwater volcano, the Axial Seamount, is erupting about 300 miles (482 km) off the coast of Washington and Oregon. Remarkably, two scientists predicted the event almost perfectly.


For the past week, the region has been subject to thousands of tiny earthquakes. Geologists Bill Chadwick of Oregon State University and Scott Nooner of the University of North Carolina Wilmington interpret this activity as magma moving toward the surface. What’s more, the seafloor has dropped by eight feet (2.4 meters), which suggests that magma is escaping from a reservoir under the summit. The researchers say the eruption is not a threat to coastal residents and that earthquakes at the Axial Seamount aren’t powerful enough to trigger tsunamis.

Back in September 2014, Chadwick and Nooner predicted that the Axial Seamount would erupt sometime in 2015. Looks like they nailed it, but more data is required for them to prove it.

“It isn’t clear yet whether the earthquakes and deflation at Axial are related to a full-blown eruption, or if it is only a large intrusion of magma that hasn’t quite reached the surface,” noted Chadwick in an Oregon State University statement. “There are some hints that lava did erupt, but we may not know for sure until we can get out there with a ship.”


Axial Seamount vent as seen in 2011.

The region is quite active, erupting in both 1998 and 2011. The site was subsequently chosen to host the world’s first underwater volcano observatory, NeMO.


Image: PMEL Earth-Ocean Interactions Program/OOI Cable Array.

The geologists were able to make the prediction based on a repeated pattern of ground deformation; the volcano inflates and deflates like a balloon as it responds to magma being fed into the seamount. After the 2011 eruption, the data suggested a subsequent eruption in four years.


Images: Oregon State University.

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