Geochemistry, Mineralogy, Volcanology Meeting Report

New Frontiers and Technologies in Submarine Volcanism Research

AGU Chapman Conference on Submarine Volcanism: New Approaches and Research Frontier; Hobart, Tasmania, Australia, 29 January to 3 February 2017

By , Karin Orth, and Bill Chadwick

It’s a real challenge to observe volcanic eruptive processes beneath the surface of the ocean directly. Advances in submarine volcanism rely on the concerted efforts of scientists from many disciplines, some of whom observe eruptions in progress and others who search for evidence of past eruptions and create models of volcanic processes.

Earlier this year, an American Geophysical Union (AGU) Chapman Conference sought to encourage this type of multidisciplinary collaboration by bringing together researchers in the fields of experimental, numerical, terrestrial, and marine volcanology. Featured invited and contributed talks spanned four themes: mid-ocean ridges and intraplate environments, volcanic arcs and back arcs, experimental and numerical modeling, and ancient volcanic successions.

Some of the most exciting reports came from three expeditions:

  • a 3-week remotely operated vehicle–autonomous underwater vehicle (ROV-AUV) expedition in 2015 to Havre volcano in Kermadec Arc, New Zealand, where the largest silicic submarine eruption ever recorded occurred in 2012
  • geophysical observations from the new, cabled observatory during the 2015 eruption at Axial Seamount in the northeast Pacific
  • video observations from West Mata Seamount in the northeast Lau Basin during eruptive activity in 2009 (see below)

The 103 participants at the conference came from 13 countries and included 31 students and 23 early-career researchers. Attendees were asked to identify key tasks that will advance understanding of submarine volcanism into the next decade. Three main topics of discussion emerged.

Are We Making the Most of Existing Data and In Situ Monitoring?

Meeting participants discussed how long-term experiments in the deep sea are now possible at the Axial Seamount cabled observatory in the northeast Pacific. This is an underutilized platform with a suite of core instruments and room for expansion.

Elsewhere, existing data sets can be used in new ways, attendees noted. For example, cyberinfrastructure and informatics might be used for knowledge discovery, archiving, visualization, and modeling in submarine volcano science.

Exploration and Discovery Are Central to Advances in Submarine Volcanology

New technologies now enable us to collect high-resolution bathymetric data to make maps of the seafloor. Attendees agreed that these technologies are essential to map volcanic structures and deposits, identify changes, and understand eruptive and secondary volcano-sedimentary processes.

Direct observations and measurements of eruption processes are extraordinarily valuable (but rare) and bring about fundamental advances to understand volcano-sedimentary processes. Speakers noted that to capture and measure eruption processes in real time, technologies must include remote-monitoring systems for detection (e.g., hydroacoustics, seismometers, and satellites), tandem operations of AUVs and ROVs for efficiency, and other emerging technologies such as gliders and cheaper and smaller robots.

These technologies will be instrumental in the setup of monitoring networks and for rapidly responding to new eruptive activity. Building these technologies will require increased international coordination and collaboration, meeting participants emphasized.

Science Communication

Attendees also discussed how to better communicate our science at all levels to facilitate these scientific goals. Volcanoes and hydrothermal vents on the seafloor are spectacular and exciting for scientists and the public alike.

Real-time observations communicated via the Web are key for public engagement. A centralized hub for communication—the Commission on Submarine Volcanism—had already been established in a preliminary form, but the Chapman Conference motivated the community to provide the levels of commitment and resources to make this a truly valuable resource. This communication hub will facilitate new working groups for decadal planning in submarine volcanology, and it will be a platform for science communication, collaboration, and teaching resources.

—Rebecca Carey (email: [email protected]) and Karin Orth, Earth Sciences, University of Tasmania, Hobart, Australia; and Bill Chadwick, Oregon State University, Newport; also at Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Newport, Ore.

Citation: Carey, R., K. Orth, and B. Chadwick (2017), New frontiers and technologies in submarine volcanism research, Eos, 98, https://doi.org/10.1029/2017EO084205. Published on 20 October 2017.
© 2017. The authors. CC BY 3.0