Marine Science Faculty Publications

A SeaMARC II Survey of Recent Submarine Volcanism near Easter Island

Document Type


Publication Date



Submarine volcanism, hotspot, Easter Island, Easter Microplate

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)


SeaMARC II side-scan sonar data reveal that a large area of seafloor north and west of Easter Island has been disrupted by recent submarine volcanism. A large volcanic area begins approximately 60 km WNW of the island and extends for over 130 km to the west. The volcanic field is characterized by high backscatter intensity in the side-scan sonar records and is elevated 400–1000 m above the N-S seafloor fabric that surrounds it. This field, the Abu Volcanic Field, covers at least 2500 km2 and appears to consist of recent lava flows and small volcanoes. Backscatter intensity of the Abu Volcanic Field is similar to that of the adjacent ridge flank which is less than 0.4 Ma, suggesting a similar age for its formation. Two additional areas of high backscatter immediately north of Easter Island cover a combined area of over 300 km2. The sidescan sonar records show that these features are clearly of volcanic origin and are not debris flows from the nearby island. The flows are nearly 300 m thick and are morphologically similar to subaerial pahoehoe lava shields. Their high backscatter indicates that they are also the products of relatively recent submarine volcanic activity. The presence of these large areas of recent volcanism in the vicinity of Easter Island has important implications for the various models that have been proposed to explain the origin of the Easter Seamount Chain. In addition, the similar ages of Easter Island and the Easter Microplate suggest that the presence of a hotspot near or beneath this fast-spreading portion of the East Pacific Rise about 4.5 m.y. ago may have initiated the large-scale rift propagation that created the microplate.

Was this content written or created while at USF?


Citation / Publisher Attribution

Marine Geophysical Researches, v. 12, art. 297