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Volcanic investigations in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, April to May 1994

August 1, 1995

A team of U.S. Geological Survey geologists, a seismologist, and technicians gathered new geologic, seismic, and deformation data in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI). Nine volcanic islands on the active East Mariana Ridge north of Saipan were examined between April 20 and May 3, 1994. In addition, a new radio-telemetry seismic station was installed on the island of Agrihan (also spelled Agrigan). This report describes our continuing efforts, that began in May 1981, to establish volcano monitors and to assess hazards in the CNMI. Our previous visits, from September 1990 to May 1992, are documented in Moore and others (1991, 1993).

Regional seismicity of the Mariana Island region, as recorded by the USGS National Earthquake Information Center (NEIC), included at least 324 events between January 1, 1991, and February 4, 1994. The largest event was a M 8.1 Guam earthquake on August 8, 1993, which caused extensive damage to that island and was felt on Saipan. Intermittent seismic activity continues to occur in the Anatahan-Sarigan, Guguan-Alamagan-Pagan, and PaganAgrihan-Asuncion areas.

Mount Pagan volcano was actively erupting ash during our 11 days on the island of Pagan. We were able to document seismicity and ground deformation associated with this volcanic activity. None of the other subaerial volcanoes in the chain showed signs of eruptive activity during our visit, but an overflight in a fixed-wing aircraft by geologist Richard Moore and CNMI Lieutenant Governor Jesus Borja detected an apparent submarine eruption between Farallon de Pajaros (also known as Uracas or Uracus) and Maug. The only surveillance of the three uninhabited islands of Farallon de Pajaros, Maug, and Sarigan was by aerial reconnaissance. Geologists studied the other six islands in greater detail by field mapping and aerial surveillance.

Electronic distance measurement (EDM) permanent-glass monitor lines were measured on Agrihan, Pagan, and Anatahan. The majority of line-length changes on Agrihan were insignificant (<16 mm). Mount Pagan's south EDM monitor was reestablished, and 1994 results, compared with 1983 measurements, show large changes associated with renewed volcanic activity. Contractions of 59 mm (stations INS to REF) and 157 mm (stations INS to MID) were measured on the south monitor. The southwest Pagan EDM monitor showed a 56 mm contraction for the same period (stations PAGAN 1 to RIDGE 2). Line-length change of this sense and magnitude usually indicates that inflation has occurred in the volcano. Measurements during the 1994 visit to Pagan Island showed no significant changes (for all measurements made during April-May 1994). Anatahan also showed changes as large as -50 mm, accumulated over a time span of approximately two years.

Temperatures and pH values of hot spring waters on Agrihan, Pagan, and Anatahan and fumaroles on Agrihan and Anatahan were measured. The temperature data indicated no significant change in the state of these volcanoes since 1992. We collected warm spring water from Lagoonam Sanhalom (Inland Lake) near Mount Pagan. In addition, we started geologic mapping on Asuncion and Guguan, collected charcoal to date three eruptions of Mount Pagan, and collected rocks on Asuncion, Guguan, Pagan, and Alamagan for petrographic and chemical studies.

We conclude that the low and infrequent shallow seismicity, lack of significant deformation, and low fumarole temperatures suggest that no eruption is likely soon on Agrihan and Alamagan. Anatahan's deformation pattern continues to behave in an erratic manner. Because f the lack of seismicity, it seems unlikely that an eruption of Anatahan will occur soon. The persistent volcanic tremor and significant EDM changes on Mount Pagan mean that small explosive eruptions will continue to occur.

Publication Year 1995
Title Volcanic investigations in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, April to May 1994
DOI 10.3133/ofr94705
Authors M. K. Sako, F. A. Trusdell, R. Y. Koyanagi, George Kojima, R. B. Moore
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Open-File Report
Series Number 94-705
Index ID ofr94705
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Volcano Hazards Program