Journal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth

Ground deformation associated with the March 1996 earthquake swarm at Akutan volcano, Alaska, revealed by satellite radar interferometry


  • Zhong Lu,

  • Charles Wicks Jr.,

  • John A. Power,

  • Daniel Dzurisin


In March 1996 an intense swarm of volcano-tectonic earthquakes (∼3000 felt by local residents, Mmax = 5.1, cumulative moment of 2.7×1018 N m) beneath Akutan Island in the Aleutian volcanic arc, Alaska, produced extensive ground cracks but no eruption of Akutan volcano. Synthetic aperture radar interferograms that span the time of the swarm reveal complex island-wide deformation: the western part of the island including Akutan volcano moved upward, while the eastern part moved downward. The axis of the deformation approximately aligns with new ground cracks on the western part of the island and with Holocene normal faults that were reactivated during the swarm on the eastern part of the island. The axis is also roughly parallel to the direction of greatest compressional stress in the region. No ground movements greater than 2.83 cm were observed outside the volcano's summit caldera for periods of 4 years before or 2 years after the swarm. We modeled the deformation primarily as the emplacement of a shallow, east–west trending, north dipping dike plus inflation of a deep, Mogi-type magma body beneath the volcano. The pattern of subsidence on the eastern part of the island is poorly constrained. It might have been produced by extensional tectonic strain that both reactivated preexisting faults on the eastern part of the island and facilitated magma movement beneath the western part. Alternatively, magma intrusion beneath the volcano might have been the cause of extension and subsidence in the eastern part of the island. We attribute localized subsidence in an area of active fumaroles within the Akutan caldera, by as much as 10 cm during 1992–1993 and 1996–1998, to fluid withdrawal or depressurization of the shallow hydrothermal system.