The 2014 Submarine Eruption of Ahyi Volcano, Northern Mariana Islands

Monday, 15 December 2014
Matthew M Haney1, William Chadwick2, Susan G Merle2, Nathaniel J Buck3, David A Butterfield3, Michelle L Coombs1, Laeslo G Evers4,5, Kevin D Heaney6, John J Lyons1, Cheryl K Searcy1, Sharon L Walker7, Charles Young8 and Robert W Embley9, (1)Alaska Volcano Observatory - USGS, Anchorage, AK, United States, (2)Oregon State University/NOAA/PMEL, Newport, OR, United States, (3)University of Washington/NOAA/PMEL, Seattle, WA, United States, (4)Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute, De Bilt, Netherlands, (5)Delft University of Technology, Delft, Netherlands, (6)OASIS Incorporated, Fairfax Station, VA, United States, (7)NOAA/PMEL, Seattle, WA, United States, (8)Joint Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Research/University of Hawaii - NOAA/Coral Reef Ecosystem Division, Honolulu, HI, United States, (9)NOAA/PMEL, Newport, OR, United States
On April 23, 2014, Ahyi Volcano, a submarine cone in the Northern Mariana Islands (NMI), ended a 13-year-long period of repose with an explosive eruption lasting over 2 weeks. The remoteness of the volcano and the presence of several seamounts in the immediate area posed a challenge for constraining the source location of the eruption. Critical to honing in on the Ahyi area quickly were quantitative error estimates provided by the CTBTO on the backazimuth of hydroacoustic arrivals observed at Wake Island (IMS station H11). T-phases registered across the NMI seismic network at the rate of approximately 10 per hour until May 8 and were observed in hindsight at seismic stations on Guam and Chichijima. After May 8, sporadic T-phases were observed until May 17.

Within days of the eruption onset, reports were received from NOAA research divers of hearing explosions underwater and through the hull on the ship while working on the SE coastline of Farallon de Pajaros (Uracas), a distance of 20 km NW of Ahyi. In the same area, the NOAA crew reported sighting mats of orange-yellow bubbles on the water surface and extending up to 1 km from the shoreline. Despite these observations, satellite images showed nothing unusual throughout the eruption.

During mid-May, a later cruise leg on the NOAA ship Hi’ialakai that was previously scheduled in the Ahyi area was able to collect some additional data in response to the eruption. Preliminary multibeam sonar bathymetry and water-column CTD casts were obtained at Ahyi. Comparison between 2003 and 2014 bathymetry revealed that the minimum depth had changed from 60 m in 2003 to 75 m in 2014, and a new crater ~95 m deep had formed at the summit. Extending SSE from the crater was a new scoured-out landslide chute extending downslope to a depth of at least 2300 m. Up to 125 m of material had been removed from the head of the landslide chute and downslope deposits were up to 40 m thick. Significant particle plumes were detected at all three CTD casts of Ahyi volcano. Plumes with optical anomalies up to 0.4 NTU were found south and west of Ahyi at 100-175 m water depth, corresponding to the depth of the new summit crater. We plan to combine the extensive T-phase, hydroacoustic, CTD, and bathymetry data from Ahyi to characterize submarine volcanic processes and quantify the size and total radiated energy of the eruption.