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Concept: Pacific Ring of Fire


Widespread ash dispersal poses a significant natural hazard to society, particularly in relation to disruption to aviation. Assessing the extent of the threat of far-travelled ash clouds on flight paths is substantially hindered by an incomplete volcanic history and an underestimation of the potential reach of distant eruptive centres. The risk of extensive ash clouds to aviation is thus poorly quantified. New evidence is presented of explosive Late Pleistocene eruptions in the Pacific Arc, currently undocumented in the proximal geological record, which dispersed ash up to 8000 km from source. Twelve microscopic ash deposits or cryptotephra, invisible to the naked eye, discovered within Greenland ice-cores, and ranging in age between 11.1 and 83.7 ka b2k, are compositionally matched to northern Pacific Arc sources including Japan, Kamchatka, Cascades and Alaska. Only two cryptotephra deposits are correlated to known high-magnitude eruptions (Towada-H, Japan, ca 15 ka BP and Mount St Helens Set M, ca 28 ka BP). For the remaining 10 deposits, there is no evidence of age- and compositionally-equivalent eruptive events in regional volcanic stratigraphies. This highlights the inherent problem of under-reporting eruptions and the dangers of underestimating the long-term risk of widespread ash dispersal for trans-Pacific and trans-Atlantic flight routes.

Concepts: Kamchatka Peninsula, Atlantic Ocean, Risk, Geologic time scale, Cost underestimation, Volcano, Mount St. Helens, Pacific Ring of Fire


Mt Ontake in central Japan suddenly erupted on 27(th) September 2014, killing 57 people with 6 still missing. It was a hydro-volcanic eruption and new magmatic material was not detected. There were no precursor signals such as seismicity and edifice inflation. It is difficult to predict hydro-volcanic eruptions because they are local phenomena that only affect a limited area surrounding the explosive vent. Here we report a long-term helium anomaly measured in hot springs close to the central cone. Helium-3 is the most sensitive tracer of magmatic volatiles. We have conducted spatial surveys around the volcano at once per few years since November 1981. The (3)He/(4)He ratios of the closest site to the cone stayed constant until June 2000 and increased significantly from June 2003 to November 2014, while those of distant sites showed no valuable change. These observations suggest a recent re-activation of Mt Ontake and that helium-3 enhancement may have been a precursor of the 2014 eruption. We show that the eruption was ultimately caused by the increased input of magmatic volatiles over a ten-year period which resulted in the slow pressurization of the volcanic conduit leading to the hydro-volcanic event in September 2014.

Concepts: Wells Gray-Clearwater volcanic field, Volcanism of Canada, Water, Hydrothermal vent, 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens, Earthquake, Pacific Ring of Fire, Volcano


Both aseismic and seismic slip accommodate relative motion across partially coupled plate-boundary faults. In northeastern Japan, aseismic slip occurs in the form of decelerating afterslip after large interplate earthquakes and as relatively steady slip on uncoupled areas of the subduction thrust. Here we report on a previously unrecognized quasi-periodic slow-slip behavior that is widespread in the megathrust zone. The repeat intervals of the slow slip range from 1 to 6 years and often coincide with or precede clusters of large [magnitude (M) ≥ 5] earthquakes, including the 2011 M 9 Tohoku-oki earthquake. These results suggest that inherently periodic slow-slip events result in periodic stress perturbations and modulate the occurrence time of larger earthquakes. The periodicity in the slow-slip rate has the potential to help refine time-dependent earthquake forecasts.

Concepts: Intraplate earthquake, Plate tectonics, Pacific Ring of Fire, Subduction, Seismology, Tsunami, Earthquake engineering, Earthquake


Earth’s deepest earthquakes occur in subducting oceanic lithosphere, where temperatures are lower than in ambient mantle. On 24 May 2013, a magnitude 8.3 earthquake ruptured a 180-kilometer-long fault within the subducting Pacific plate about 609 kilometers below the Sea of Okhotsk. Global seismic P wave recordings indicate a radiated seismic energy of ~1.5 × 10(17) joules. A rupture velocity of ~4.0 to 4.5 kilometers/second is determined by back-projection of short-period P waves, and the fault width is constrained to give static stress drop estimates (~12 to 15 megapascals) compatible with theoretical radiation efficiency for crack models. A nearby aftershock had a stress drop one to two orders of magnitude higher, indicating large stress heterogeneity in the deep slab, and plausibly within the rupture process of the great event.

Concepts: Seismic wave, Lithosphere, Pacific Ring of Fire, Love wave, Plate tectonics, Energy, Earth, Earthquake


Do adversarial environmental conditions create social cohesion? We provide new answers to this question by exploiting spatial and temporal variation in exposure to earthquakes across Chile. Using a variety of methods and controlling for a number of socio-economic variables, we find that exposure to earthquakes has a positive effect on several indicators of social cohesion. Social cohesion increases after a big earthquake and slowly erodes in periods where environmental conditions are less adverse. Our results contribute to the current debate on whether and how environmental conditions shape formal and informal institutions.

Concepts: Environmental science, 1906 San Francisco earthquake, Pacific Ring of Fire, Society, Sociology


Many active volcanoes exhibit changes in seismicity, ground deformation, and gas emissions, which in some instances arise from magma movement in the crust before eruption. An enduring challenge in volcano monitoring is interpreting signs of unrest in terms of the causal subterranean magmatic processes. We examined over 300 zoned orthopyroxene crystals from the 1980-1986 eruption of Mount St. Helens that record pulsatory intrusions of new magma and volatiles into an existing larger reservoir before the eruption occurred. Diffusion chronometry applied to orthopyroxene crystal rims shows that episodes of magma intrusion correlate temporally with recorded seismicity, providing evidence that some seismic events are related to magma intrusion. These time scales are commensurate with monitoring signals at restless volcanoes, thus improving our ability to forecast volcanic eruptions by using petrology.

Concepts: Pacific Ring of Fire, Intrusion, Mantle plume, Earthquake, Volcanology, Basalt, Magma, Volcano


Understanding how monogenetic volcanic systems work requires full comprehension of the local and regional stresses that govern magma migration inside them and why/how they seem to change from one eruption to another. During the 2011-2012 El Hierro eruption (Canary Islands) the characteristics of unrest, including a continuous change in the location of seismicity, made the location of the future vent unpredictable, so short term hazard assessment was highly imprecise. A 3D P-wave velocity model is obtained using arrival times of the earthquakes occurred during that pre-eruptive unrest and several latter post-eruptive seismic crises not related to further eruptions. This model reveals the rheological and structural complexity of the interior of El Hierro volcanic island. It shows a number of stress barriers corresponding to regional tectonic structures and blocked pathways from previous eruptions, which controlled ascent and lateral migration of magma and, together with the existence of N-S regional compression, reduced its options to find a suitable path to reach the surface and erupt.

Concepts: Island, Valverde, Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Seismology, Pacific Ring of Fire, El Hierro, Earthquake, Volcano, Canary Islands


We show possible scenarios for the occurrence of M ~ 7 interplate earthquakes prior to and following the M ~ 9 earthquake along the Japan Trench, such as the 2011 Tohoku-Oki earthquake. One such M ~ 7 earthquake is so-called the Miyagi-ken-Oki earthquake, for which we conducted numerical simulations of earthquake generation cycles by using realistic three-dimensional (3D) geometry of the subducting Pacific Plate. In a number of scenarios, the time interval between the M ~ 9 earthquake and the subsequent Miyagi-ken-Oki earthquake was equal to or shorter than the average recurrence interval during the later stage of the M ~ 9 earthquake cycle. The scenarios successfully reproduced important characteristics such as the recurrence of M ~ 7 earthquakes, coseismic slip distribution, afterslip distribution, the largest foreshock, and the largest aftershock of the 2011 earthquake. Thus, these results suggest that we should prepare for future M ~ 7 earthquakes in the Miyagi-ken-Oki segment even though this segment recently experienced large coseismic slip in 2011.

Concepts: Earth, Subduction, Japan, Time, Plate tectonics, Computer simulation, Earthquake, Pacific Ring of Fire


A more complete record is emerging of radionuclide measurements in fish tissue, sediment, and seawater samples from near the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant (FDNPP) and across the Pacific Ocean. Based on publicly-available data, our analysis indicates the dose rates to the most impacted fish species near the FDNPP (median 1.1 mGy d-1, 2012-2014 data) have remained above benchmark levels for potential dose effects at least three years longer than was indicated by previous, data-limited, evaluations. Dose rates from 134,137Cs were highest in benthic species with sediment-associated food chains and feeding behaviors. In addition to 134,137Cs, the radionuclide 90Sr was estimated to contribute up to approximately one-half of the total 2013 dose rate to fish near the FDNPP. Mesopelagic fish 100-200 km east of the FDNPP, coastal fish in the Aleutian Islands (3300 km), and trans-Pacific migratory species, all had increased dose rates as a consequence of the FDNPP accident, but their total dose rates remained dominated by background radionuclides. A hypothetical human consumer of 50 kg of fish, gathered 3 km from the FDNPP in 2013, would have received a total committed effective dose of approximately 0.95 mSv a-1 from combined FDNPP and ambient radionuclides, of which 0.13 mSv a-1 (14%) is solely from the FDNPP radionuclides and below the 1 mSv a-1 benchmark for public exposure.

Concepts: Pacific Ring of Fire, Fish, Radiation poisoning, Island, United States, Ocean, Aleutian Islands, Pacific Ocean


The 2011 moment magnitude 9.0 Tohoku-Oki earthquake produced a maximum coseismic slip of more than 50 meters near the Japan trench, which could result in a completely reduced stress state in the region. We tested this hypothesis by determining the in situ stress state of the frontal prism from boreholes drilled by the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program approximately 1 year after the earthquake and by inferring the pre-earthquake stress state. On the basis of the horizontal stress orientations and magnitudes estimated from borehole breakouts and the increase in coseismic displacement during propagation of the rupture to the trench axis, in situ horizontal stress decreased during the earthquake. The stress change suggests an active slip of the frontal plate interface, which is consistent with coseismic fault weakening and a nearly total stress drop.

Concepts: Borehole, Offshore drilling, Pacific Ring of Fire, World War II, Japan, Drilling rig, Ocean Drilling Program, Earthquake