More than 85% of the Earth's volcanism and geothermal heat release occurs underwater at mid-ocean ridges, intra-plate hotspots, and oceanic island arcs. However, we lack a clear understanding of how a submarine eruption interacts with the overlying water column, the structure of the submarine eruptive plume, and the transport of volcanic products in the ocean by these plumes. We describe here the detection of eruption-derived temperature increase and salinity decrease from the 2012 Havre submarine caldera eruption by an existing array of temperature/salinity profiling floats, known as Argo. The Argo floats observed the signal, significant at >3 sigma level with respect to the background ocean variability (noise), at ocean depths of ∼1750–2000 m deeper than the eruptive vent itself. In order to understand this signal, we develop a new conceptual submarine plume model which suggests that the sub-vent level temperature and salinity anomalies are caused by large-scale ocean mixing induced by the eruptive plume, rather than heating directly from the eruption. Using results from scaling analysis and a modified numerical plume-gravity current model, we show that submarine eruptions can efficiently advect water masses from the deep ocean closer to the surface and form multiple subsurface intrusions during the process. Consequently, the submarine eruptive plumes can initiate significant ocean mixing, a process with significant implications for both long- and short-term influence of submarine volcanism on ocean chemistry, dynamics, and ecology. Finally, our model confirms that a detectable anomaly would persist out to 100s of km from the eruption location, comparable to Argo's spatial sampling. Given the global ocean coverage and a decadal baseline, the Argo floats (and other similar datasets), in concert with hydrophone and seismic arrays, can provide significant new constraints on subaqueous volcanism, eruption dynamics, and the impact on Earth systems through enhanced ocean mixing and nutrient supply, e.g. during submarine Large Igneous Provinces.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Geochemistry and Petrology
- Space and Planetary Science
- Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)