One of the most striking aspects of seismicity during the 2004–2008 eruption of Mount St. Helens (MSH) was the precise regularity in occurrence of repetitive long-period (LP) or “drumbeat” events over sustained time periods. However, this precise regularity was not always observed, and at times the temporal occurrence of LP events became more random. In addition, accompanying the dominant LP class of events during the 2004–2008 MSH eruption, there was a near-continuous, randomly occurring series of smaller seismic events. These subevents are not always simply small-amplitude versions of the dominant LP class of events but appear instead to result from a separate random process only loosely coupled to the main LP source mechanism. We present an analysis of the interevent time and amplitude distributions of the subevents, using waveform cross correlation to separate LP events from the subevents. We also discuss seismic tremor that accompanied the 8 March 2005 phreatic explosion event at MSH. This tremor consists of a rapid succession of LPs and subevents triggered during the explosion, in addition to broadband noise from the sustained degassing. Immediately afterward, seismicity returned to the pre-explosion occurrence pattern. This triggering in relation to the rapid ejection of steam from the system, and subsequent return to pre-explosion seismicity, suggests that both seismic event types originated in a region of the subsurface hydrothermal system that was (1) in contact with the reservoir feeding the 8 March 2005 phreatic explosion but (2) not destroyed or drained by the explosion event. Finally, we discuss possible thermodynamic conditions in a pressurized hydrothermal crack that could give rise to seismicity. Pressure drop estimates for typical LP events are not generally large enough to perturb pure water in a shallow hydrothermal crack into an unstable state. However, dissolved volatiles such as CO2 may lead to a more unstable system, increasing the seismogenic potential of a hydrothermal crack subject to rapid heat flux. The interaction of hydrothermal and magmatic systems beneath MSH in 2004–2008 thus appears able to explain a wide range of observed phenomena, including subevents, LP events, larger (Md > 2) events, and phreatic explosions.
Additional publication details
Subevents of long-period seismicity: implications for hydrothermal dynamics during the 2004-2008 eruption of Mount St. Helens