Progressive reactivation of the volcanic plumbing system beneath Tolbachik volcano (Kamchatka, Russia) revealed by long-period seismicity


After lying dormant for 36 yr, the Tolbachik volcano of the Klyuchevskoy group started to erupt on 27 November 2012. We investigate the preparatory phase of this eruption via a statistical analysis of the temporal behavior of long-period (LP) earthquakes that occurred beneath this volcanic system. The LP seismicity occurs close to the surface beneath the main volcanic edifices and at 30 km depth in the vicinity of a deep magmatic reservoir. The deep LP earthquakes and those beneath the Klyuchevskoy volcano occur quasi-periodically, while the LP earthquakes beneath Tolbachik are clustered in time. As the seismicity rate increased beneath Tolbachik days before the eruption, the level of the time clustering decreased. We interpret this as a manifestation of the evolution of the volcano plumbing system. We suggest that when a plumbing system awakes after quiescence, multiple cracks and channels are reactivated simultaneously and their interaction results in the strong time clustering of LP earthquakes. With time, this network of channels and cracks evolves into a more stable state with an overall increased permeability, where fluids flow uninhibited throughout the plumbing system except for a few remaining impediments that continue to generate seismic radiation. The inter-seismic source interaction and the level of earthquake time clustering in this latter state is weak. This scenario suggests that the observed evolution of the statistical behavior of the shallow LP seismicity beneath Tolbachik is an indicator of the reactivation and consolidation of the near-surface plumbing system prior to the Tolbachik eruption. The parts of the plumbing system above the deep magmatic reservoir and beneath the Klyuchevskoy volcano remain in nearly permanent activity, as demonstrated by the continuous occurrence of the deep LP earthquakes and very frequent Klyuchevskoy eruptions. This implies that these parts of the plumbing system remain in a stable permeable state and contain a few weakly interacting seismogenic sources. Our results provide new constraints on future mechanical models of the magmatic plumbing systems and demonstrate that the level of time clustering of LP earthquakes can be a useful parameter to infer information about the state of the plumbing system.

Earth and Planetary Science Letters
William B. Frank
William B. Frank
Assistant Professor

My research focuses on how the Earth’s crust deforms over a broad range spatiotemporal scales.