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Crustal migration of CO2-rich magmatic fluids recorded by tree-ring radiocarbon and seismicity at Mammoth Mountain, CA, USA

March 15, 2014

Unrest at Mammoth Mountain over the past several decades, manifest by seismicity, ground deformation, diffuse CO2 emissions, and elevated 3He/4He ratios in fumarolic gases has been driven by the release of CO2-rich fluids from basaltic intrusions in the middle to lower crust. Recent unrest included the occurrence of three lower-crustal (32–19 km depth) seismic swarms beneath Mammoth Mountain in 2006, 2008 and 2009 that were consistently followed by peaks in the occurrence rate of shallow (≤10 km depth) earthquakes. We measured 14C in the growth rings (1998–2012) of a tree growing in the largest (∼0.3 km2) area of diffuse CO2 emissions on Mammoth Mountain (the Horseshoe Lake tree kill; HLTK) and applied atmospheric CO2 concentration source area modeling to confirm that the tree was a reliable integrator of magmatic CO2 emissions over most of this area. The tree-ring 14C record implied that magmatic CO2 emissions from the HLTK were relatively stable from 1998 to 2009, nearly doubled from 2009 to 2011, and then declined by the 2012 growing season. The initial increase in CO2 emissions was detected during the growing season that immediately followed the largest (February 2010) peak in the occurrence rate of shallow earthquakes. Migration of CO2-rich magmatic fluids may have driven observed patterns of elevated deep, then shallow seismicity, while the relationship between pore fluid pressures within a shallow (upper 3 km of crust) fluid reservoir and permeability structure of the reservoir cap rock may have controlled the temporal pattern of surface CO2 emissions.