Submarine Volcanoes Group

David Clague, Principal Investigator

The manipulator arm of ROV Doc Ricketts collecting a sample of a drained lava pillow rind.

The submarine volcanism group studies processes that form and modify volcanoes in the sea.

Volcanic eruptions and flank collapses are significant geologic hazards. While volcanic events and deposits in the ocean are largely concealed from view and more difficult to sample than volcanoes on land, submarine volcanoes are an integral part of the way the Earth works and may cause destructive tsunami. The roles of mid-ocean ridges in plate tectonics and hydrothermal circulation are concepts that were only discovered in the last half century. We are now learning how often the ridges erupt, how big those eruptions are and how explosive they might be, and how much they contribute to global gas and mineral cycles. Near-ridge seamounts are a special case only recently recognized: they are influenced by ridge processes but have large calderas so might be capable of especially violent behavior. Hot spot mantle plumes have built many of the thousands of seamounts and islands in the ocean, which are important for species biodiversity, fisheries and other human uses, but which can produce destructive eruptions and landslides.

Our goal is to better understand these and other volcanic processes in the deep sea environment. Through this research we hope to gain insight into potentially destructive eruptions on land or in shallow water. We are studying:

  • Styles of volcanic eruptions at varying depths and lava compositions
  • Frequency and volume of mid-ocean ridge eruptions
  • Explosive volcanism in the deep sea
  • Submarine landslides and the structure of the flanks of volcanoes
  • Evolution of hydrothermal systems
  • Plio-Pleistocene paleoclimatic history recorded in drowned coral reefs
  • Origin and evolution of oceanic volcanoes
  • Biogeography of ocean islands and submarine volcanoes
Classic example of a pit and pillar feature from Endeavour Ridge.

Mid-ocean ridges

The great majority of the Earth's volcanism occurs at spreading centers, most of which are under the ocean, forming the mid-ocean ridge system where new ocean crust is being created.
Thick manganese-oxide crusts precipitated from hydrothermal fluids when the volcano was active and from seawater over time since, making it hard to discern the original rock textures.


Many chains of seamounts (submerged mountains) are of hot spot or subduction arc origin. However, some intraplate seamounts have different origins. Near-ridge seamounts erupted near the axes of mid-ocean ridges onto recently derived oceanic crust.

Margin processes

Our continental margin is being deformed by the generally strike-slip motion of the San Andreas fault, as the Pacific plate moves north-west relative to the North American plate, carrying the sliver of coastal California with it.
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Hot spot research

The Hawaiian Islands and Emperor Seamount chain of volcanoes are the product of a mantle hot spot in the middle of the Pacific Plate.

Submarine volcanism cruises

Our research takes us to places such as Hawaii, the Gorda Ridge, the Alarcon Ridge in the Gulf of California, and the seamounts off California.

Volcanoes resources

Links to MBARI images and video related to submarine volcanoes and other on-line resources on plate tectonics, volcanoes, and earthquakes.




Upper-ocean systems
Biological oceanography
Biological oceanography research
Publication—Global modes of sea surface temperature
Chemical sensors
Chemical data
Land/Ocean Biogeochemical Observatory in Elkhorn Slough
Listing of floats
SOCCOM float visualization
Periodic table of elements in the ocean
Biogeochemical-Argo Report
Profiling float
Marine microbes
Population dynamics of phytoplankton
Microbial predators
Microbe-algae interactions
Targeted metagenomics
In the news
Upcoming events and lab news
Past talks and presentations
Join the lab
Molecular ecology
Molecular systematics
SIMZ Project
Bone-eating worms
Gene flow and dispersal
Molecular-ecology expeditions
Interdisciplinary field experiments
Genomic sensors
Ocean observing system
Midwater research
Midwater ecology
Deep-sea squids and octopuses
Food web dynamics
Midwater time series
Respiration studies
Zooplankton biodiversity
Seafloor processes
Biology and ecology
Effects of humans
Ocean acidification, warming, deoxygenation
Lost shipping container study
Effects of upwelling
Faunal patterns
Past research
Technology development
High-CO2 / low-pH ocean
Benthic respirometer system
Climate change in extreme environments
Monitoring instrumentation suite
Sargasso Sea research
Antarctic research
Long-term time series
Geological changes
Arctic Shelf Edge
Continental Margins and Canyon Dynamics
Coordinated Canyon Experiment
Monterey Canyon: Stunning deep-sea topography revealed
Ocean chemistry of greenhouse gases
Emerging science of a high CO2/low pH ocean
Submarine volcanoes
Mid-ocean ridges
Magmatic processes
Volcanic processes
Explosive eruptions
Hydrothermal systems
Back arc spreading ridges
Near-ridge seamounts
Continental margin seamounts
Non-hot-spot linear chains
Eclectic seamounts topics
Margin processes
Hydrates and seeps
California borderland
Hot spot research
Hot-spot plumes
Magmatic processes
Volcanic processes
Explosive eruptions
Volcanic hazards
Hydrothermal systems
Flexural arch
Coral reefs
ReefGrow software
Eclectic topics
Submarine volcanism cruises
Volcanoes resources
Areas of study
Microscopic biology research
Open ocean biology research
Seafloor biology research
Automated chemical sensors
Methane in the seafloor
Volcanoes and seamounts
Hydrothermal vents
Methane in the seafloor
Submarine canyons
Earthquakes and landslides
Ocean acidification
Physical oceanography and climate change
Ocean circulation and algal blooms
Ocean cycles and climate change
Research publications
Submarine Volcanism Publications
Full publications list