Geodetic observations and modeling of magmatic inflation at the Three Sisters volcanic center, central Oregon Cascade Range, USA

Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research
By: , and 



Tumescence at the Three Sisters volcanic center began sometime between summer 1996 and summer 1998 and was discovered in April 2001 using interferometric synthetic aperture radar (InSAR). Swelling is centered about 5 km west of the summit of South Sister, a composite basaltic-andesite to rhyolite volcano that last erupted between 2200 and 2000 yr ago, and it affects an area ∼20 km in diameter within the Three Sisters Wilderness. Yearly InSAR observations show that the average maximum displacement rate was 3–5 cm/yr through summer 2001, and the velocity of a continuous GPS station within the deforming area was essentially constant from June 2001 to June 2004. The background level of seismic activity has been low, suggesting that temperatures in the source region are high enough or the strain rate has been low enough to favor plastic deformation over brittle failure. A swarm of about 300 small earthquakes (Mmax = 1.9) in the northeast quadrant of the deforming area on March 23–26, 2004, was the first notable seismicity in the area for at least two decades. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) established tilt-leveling and EDM networks at South Sister in 1985–1986, resurveyed them in 2001, the latter with GPS, and extended them to cover more of the deforming area. The 2001 tilt-leveling results are consistent with the inference drawn from InSAR that the current deformation episode did not start before 1996, i.e., the amount of deformation during 1995–2001 from InSAR fully accounts for the net tilt at South Sister during 1985–2001 from tilt-leveling. Subsequent InSAR, GPS, and leveling observations constrain the source location, geometry, and inflation rate as a function of time. A best-fit source model derived from simultaneous inversion of all three datasets is a dipping sill located 6.5 ± 2.5 km below the surface with a volume increase of 5.0 × 106 ± 1.5 × 106m3/yr (95% confidence limits). The most likely cause of tumescence is a pulse of basaltic magma intruding the upper crust along the brittle–ductile interface — a process that must occur episodically beneath the Cascade Range but in the past would have escaped detection in the absence of unusual seismicity. We speculate that such intrusive episodes last from days to years and are separated by quiescent periods of decades to centuries. The likelihood that the current episode at Three Sisters will culminate in an eruption is judged to be low, but the impact of an eruption could be great. The USGS has updated its volcano hazards assessment for the Three Sisters region, notified appropriate agencies and the public, and is helping to prepare an emergency coordination and communication plan.

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Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Geodetic observations and modeling of magmatic inflation at the Three Sisters volcanic center, central Oregon Cascade Range, USA
Series title Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research
DOI 10.1016/j.jvolgeores.2005.07.011
Volume 150
Issue 1-3
Year Published 2006
Language English
Publisher Elsevier Science
Contributing office(s) Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, Volcano Hazards Program
Description 20 p.
First page 35
Last page 54
Country United States
Other Geospatial Central Oregon Cascade Range, Three Sisters volcanic center
Online Only (Y/N) N
Additional Online Files (Y/N) N
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