Journal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth

Direct video and hydrophone observations of submarine explosive eruptions at NW Rota-1 volcano, Mariana arc



[1] Extraordinary video and hydrophone observations of a submarine explosive eruption were made with a remotely operated vehicle in April 2006 at a depth of 550–560 m on NW Rota-1 volcano in the Mariana arc. The observed eruption evolved from effusive to explosive, while the eruption rate increased from near zero to 10–100 m3/h. During the peak in activity, cyclic explosive bursts 2–6 min long were separated by shorter non-eruptive pauses lasting 10–100 s. The size of the ejecta increased with the vigor of the explosions. A portable hydrophone deployed near the vent recorded sounds correlated with the explosive bursts; the highest amplitudes were ∼50 dB higher than ambient noise at frequencies between 10 and 50 Hz. The acoustic data allow us to quantify the durations, amplitudes, and evolution of the eruptive events over time. The low eruption rate, high gas/lava ratio, and rhythmic eruptive behavior at NW Rota-1 are most consistent with a Strombolian eruptive style. We interpret that the eruption was primarily driven by the venting of magmatic gases, which was also the primary source of the sound recorded during the explosive bursts. The rhythmic nature of the bursts can be explained by partial gas segregation in the conduit and upward migration in a transitional regime between bubbly flow and fully developed slug flow. The strongest explosive bursts were accompanied by flashes of red glow and oscillating eruption plumes in the vent, apparently caused by magma-seawater interaction and rapid steam formation and condensation. This is the first time submarine explosive eruptions have been witnessed with simultaneous near-field acoustic recordings.