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Caught On Tape! Undersea Volcano Erupts Off Northwest Coast

NEWPORT, Ore. - For the first time, we're getting to listen to the eruption of an undersea volcano off the Northwest coast. Correspondent Tom Banse got a hold of unusual recordings made at a place called Axial Seamount. It's about 300 miles out to sea from Cannon Beach, Oregon.

Researchers from Oregon State University deployed instruments on the seafloor in anticipation of an eruption at Axial Seamount last year. At first, an underwater microphone - called a hydrophone - captured the low-frequency rumblings of small earthquakes. The sped up audio sounds like a loud bump.

Hydrophone deployed at Axial Seamount. By Bill Chadwick, Oregon State University.
Hydrophone deployed at Axial Seamount. By Bill Chadwick, Oregon State University.

Marine geologist Bob Dziak also captured the sound of lava moving beneath the crater.

"We can hear that flowing, like water flowing through a pipe - in this case, magma through a tube," Dziak says.

Finally, Dziak has the climatic earthquake swarm of the actual eruption. It sounds like a loud and rolling boom.

Fellow OSU researcher Bill Chadwick says analysis of this volcano yielded recognizable patterns that could be used to predict future eruptions.

"At this place, it's a simpler system. I think we can learn a lot about what signals we might be able to see that can help us forecast eruptions at other places," Chadwick says.

Still to be determined is how much of the undersea learning carries over to predicting behavior of volcanoes on dry land.

The scientists detail their findings in three related papers published this week in the journal Nature Geoscience.

Copyright 2012 Northwest News Network

Copyright 2012 Northwest News Network

Correspondent Tom Banse is an Olympia-based reporter with more than three decades of experience covering Washington and Oregon state government, public policy, business and breaking news stories. Most of his career was spent with public radio's Northwest News Network, but now in semi-retirement his work is appearing on other outlets.