The northeast Lau basin, the NE “corner” of the Tonga subduction zone, has an unusual concentration of young submarine volcanism and hydrothermal activity. The area is bounded on the west by overlapping spreading centers opening at rates up to 120 mm/yr, on the north by the E-W trending Tonga trench and on the east by the Tofua arc front. From the south, the Fonualei rift spreading center (FRSC) overlaps with the southern rift of The Mangatolo triple junction spreading center (MTJSC). The northern arm of the MTJSC overlaps with the northeast Lau spreading center (NELSC). Surveys of the area with an EM300 sonar system in November 2008 show high backscatter over the 10-20 km wide neovolcanic zones of the FRSC, MTJSC and NELSC. High backscatter is also associated with: (1) a 10-km diameter, hydrothermally active, volcanic caldera/cone (Volcano “O”) lying between the NELSC and the northern Tofua arc front; (2) a rift zone extending north from volcano “O” and intersecting the NELSC near the Tonga trench; and (3) a series of volcanoes constructed along SW-NE trending crustal tears in the northernmost backarc near the east-west portion of the Tonga Trench. Two eruptions were detected in November 2008 during hydrothermal plume surveys of the area. Subsequent dives with the remotely operated vehicle Jason 2 in May 2009 revealed that the southern NELSC eruption was a short-lived, primarily effusive eruption. The second eruption was detected on the summit of the largest SW-NE trending volcano (West Mata) and was ongoing when Jason 2 arrived on site more than 6 months later. It was producing both pillow lavas and abundant volcaniclastic debris streams that have a characteristic appearance on the sonar backscatter map. There is also an unusual series of lava flows emanating from ridges and scarps between Volcano “O” and West Mata. These flows contain drained-out lava ponds up to 2 km in diameter. The apparent high level of volcanic activity in the NE Lau basin is likely attributable to its unusual tectonic setting at the northern edge of Earth’s most dynamic subduction zone. Earthquake tomography shows that the northern edge corresponds to an E-W tear fault in the subducting Pacific plate along latitude 15 degrees S. West Mata and its hydrothermally active “twin”, East Mata volcano, are located directly above the tear fault. Seismological evidence further indicates that the tear fault is currently “active,” providing a strong explanation for the unusually high level of volcanic activity in this area.
AGU Fall Meeting Abstracts
- Pub Date:
- December 2009
- 3001 MARINE GEOLOGY AND GEOPHYSICS / Back-arc basin processes;
- 8424 VOLCANOLOGY / Hydrothermal systems;
- 8427 VOLCANOLOGY / Subaqueous volcanism;
- 8485 VOLCANOLOGY / Remote sensing of volcanoes