A supervolcano is a large volcano that has had an eruption of magnitude 8, which is the largest value on the Volcanic Explosivity Index (VEI). This means the volume of deposits for that eruption is greater than 1,000 cubic kilometers (240 cubic miles).[1]

Supervolcanoes occur when magma in the mantle rises into the crust but is unable to break through it and pressure builds in a large and growing magma pool until the crust is unable to contain the pressure. This can occur at hotspots (for example, Yellowstone Caldera) or at subduction zones (for example, Toba). Another setting for the eruption of very large amounts of volcanic material is in large igneous provinces, which can cover huge areas with lava and volcanic ash, causing long-lasting climate change (such as the triggering of a small ice age), which can threaten species with extinction. The Oruanui eruption of New Zealand's Taupo Volcano (about 26,500 years ago)[2] was the world's most recent super eruption at a VEI-8 eruption.


The origin of the term "supervolcano" is linked to an early 20th-century scientific debate about the geological history and features of the Three Sisters volcanic region of Oregon in the United States. In 1925, Edwin T. Hodge suggested that a very large volcano, which he named Mount Multnomah, had existed in that region. He believed that several peaks in the Three Sisters area are the remnants of Mount Multnomah after it had been largely destroyed by violent volcanic explosions, similar to Mount Mazama.[3] In 1948, the possible existence of Mount Multnomah was ignored by volcanologist Howel Williams in his book The Ancient Volcanoes of Oregon. The book was reviewed in 1949 by another volcanologist, F. M. Byers Jr.[4] In the review, Byers refers to Mount Multnomah as a supervolcano.[5] Although Hodge's suggestion that Mount Multnomah is a supervolcano was rejected long ago, the term supervolcano was popularised by the BBC popular science television program Horizon in 2000 to refer to eruptions that produce extremely large amounts of ejecta.[6][7]

The term megacaldera is sometimes used for caldera supervolcanoes, such as the Blake River Megacaldera Complex in the Abitibi greenstone belt of Ontario and Quebec, Canada. Eruptions that rate VEI 8 are termed "super eruptions".[8] Though there is no well-defined minimum explosive size for a "supervolcano", there are at least two types of volcanic eruptions that have been identified as supervolcanoes: large igneous provinces and massive eruptions.[9]

Large igneous provinces

Large igneous provinces, such as Iceland, the Siberian Traps, Deccan Traps, and the Ontong Java Plateau, are extensive regions of basalts on a continental scale resulting from flood basalt eruptions. When created, these regions often occupy several thousand square kilometres and have volumes on the order of millions of cubic kilometers. In most cases, the lavas are normally laid down over several million years. They release large amounts of gases.

The Réunion hotspot produced the Deccan Traps about 66 million years ago, coincident with the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event. The scientific consensus is that a meteor impact was the cause of the extinction event, but the volcanic activity may have caused environmental stresses on extant species up to the Cretaceous–Paleogene boundary.[10] Additionally, the largest flood basalt event (the Siberian Traps) occurred around 250 million years ago and was coincident with the largest mass extinction in history, the Permian–Triassic extinction event, although it is unknown whether it was solely responsible for the extinction event.

Such outpourings are not explosive, though lava fountains may occur. Many volcanologists consider that Iceland may be a large igneous province that is currently being formed. The last major outpouring occurred in 1783–84 from the Laki fissure which is approximately 40 km (25 mi) long. An estimated 14 km3 (3.4 cu mi) of basaltic lava was poured out during the eruption.

The Ontong Java Plateau has an area of about 2,000,000 km2 (770,000 sq mi), and the province was at least 50% larger before the Manihiki and Hikurangi Plateaus broke away.

Massive explosive eruptions

Location of Yellowstone hotspot over time (numbers indicate millions of years before the present).

Volcanic eruptions are classified using the Volcanic Explosivity Index, or VEI. It is a logarithmic scale, which means that an increase of one in VEI number is equivalent to a tenfold increase in volume of erupted material. VEI 7 or VEI 8 eruptions are so powerful that they often form circular calderas rather than cones because the downward withdrawal of magma causes the overlying rock mass to collapse into the empty magma chamber beneath it.

Satellite image of Lake Toba, the site of a VEI 8 eruption c. 75,000 years ago.

Known super eruptions

Cross-section through Long Valley Caldera.


VEI 8 eruptions have happened in the following locations.
Name Zone Location Notes Years ago (approx.) Ejecta bulk volume (approx.) Reference
La Garita Caldera San Juan volcanic field Colorado, United States Fish Canyon eruption 27,800,000 5,000 km3
Lake Toba Lake Toba, North Sumatra Sumatra, Indonesia Produced 2200–4400 tons of H2SO4 74,000 2,800 km3 [11][12][13][14][15]
Huckleberry Ridge eruption Yellowstone hotspot Idaho, United States Huckleberry Ridge Tuff 2,100,000 2,500 km3 [16]
Atana Ignimbrite Pacana Caldera Antofagasta, Chile Part of the Altiplano–Puna volcanic complex 4,000,000 2,500 km3 [17]
Taupo Nui a tia Taupo Volcanic Zone North Island, New Zealand Whakamaru Ignimbrite/Mount Curl Tephra 340,000 2,000 km3 [18]
Heise Volcanic Field Yellowstone hotspot Idaho, United States Kilgore Tuff 4,500,000 1,800 km3 [19]
Heise Volcanic Field Yellowstone hotspot Idaho, United States Blacktail Tuff 6,000,000 1,500 km3 [19]
Cerro Guacha Altiplano-Puna volcanic complex Sur Lípez, Bolivia Guacha ignimbrite, two smaller eruptions identified 5,700,000 1,300 km3 [20]
Mangakino Caldera Taupo Volcanic Zone North Island, New Zealand Kidnappers eruption 1,080,000 1,200 km3 [21]
Oruanui eruption Taupo Volcanic Zone North Island, New Zealand Taupo Volcano (Lake Taupo) 26,500 1,170 km3
Cerro Galán Andes Central Volcanic Zone Catamarca, Argentina 2,500,000 1,050 km3
Lava Creek eruption Yellowstone hotspot Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming,United States Lava Creek Tuff 640,000 1,000 km3 [16]

Based on incomplete statistics, at least 60 VEI 8 eruptions have been identified.[9][22]


VEI 7 eruptions, less colossal but still massive, have occurred in historical times. The only ones in the past 2,000 years are Taupo Volcano's Hatepe eruption c. 232,[23] Baekdu Mountain in 946–947,[24] the eruption of Mount Samalas in 1257,[25] and Tambora in 1815.[26]

VEI 7 eruptions have happened in the following locations.
Name Zone Location Event / notes Years ago before 1950 (Approx.) Ejecta volume (Approx.)
Mount Tambora Sumbawa Island, West Nusa Tenggara Indonesia This eruption took place in 1815. 1816 became known as the Year Without a Summer. 135 120 km3
Mount Samalas Lombok Island, West Nusa Tenggara Indonesia 1257 Samalas eruption. Possible trigger of the Little Ice Age. 693 130 km3[vague][citation needed]
Baekdu Mountain Control by Baikal Rift Zone China/North Korea One of the largest volcanic eruptions in the past 2,000 years. 946 eruption of Paektu Mountain (Millennium Eruption). 1,004 100–120 km3
Taupo Volcano (Lake Taupo) Taupo Volcanic Zone New Zealand, North Island Hatepe eruption AD 232 1,718 120 km3
Thera (Santorini caldera) South Aegean Volcanic Arc Greece, Santorini Minoan eruption BC 1,641 (±12) 3,591 100 km3
Kikai Caldera Japan, Ryukyu Islands Kikai Caldera 4,300 BC 6,300 150 km3
Macauley Island Kermadec Islands New Zealand Macauley Island 8,300 to 6,300 years ago 6,300 100 km3
Mount Mazama (Crater Lake) Cascade Volcanic Arc U.S., Oregon Partially responsible for the formation of Crater Lake. 6,578 100 km3
Kurile Lake Kamchatka Peninsula Russia Kurile Lake
6,440 BC
10,500 140–170 km3
Aira Caldera Japan, Kyūshū Aira Caldera 22,000 450 km3
Campanian Ignimbrite eruption Campi Flegrei (Phlegraean Fields) Italy, Naples 39,280 300 km3*
Rotoiti Ignimbrite Taupo Volcanic Zone New Zealand, North Island Rotoiti Ignimbrite 50,000 240 km3
Lake Maninjau Lake Maninjau, West Sumatra Indonesia 52,000 220–250 km³
Reporoa Caldera Taupo Volcanic Zone New Zealand, North Island 230,000 100 km3
Mamaku Ignimbrite Taupo Volcanic Zone New Zealand, North Island Rotorua Caldera 240,000 280 km3
Matahina Ignimbrite Taupo Volcanic Zone New Zealand, North Island Haroharo Caldera 280,000 120 km3
Mount Aso Japan, Kyūshū Four large eruptions between 300,000 and 80,000 years ago. 300,000 600 km3
Long Valley Caldera Bishop Tuff U.S., California 760,000 600 km3
Mangakino Taupo Volcanic Zone New Zealand, North Island Three eruptions from 0.97 to 1.23 million years ago 970,000 300 km3
Valles Caldera Jemez volcanic field U.S., New Mexico Two eruptions at 1.25 and 1.61 million years ago 1,250,000
600 km3
Henry's Fork Caldera Yellowstone hotspot
Mesa Falls Tuff
U.S., Idaho Yellowstone hotspot 1,300,000 280 km3
Karymshina Kamchatka Russia 1,780,000
825 km3
Pastos Grandes Ignimbrite Pastos Grandes Caldera Bolivia 2,900,000 820 km3
Heise Volcanic Field Yellowstone hotspot
Walcott Tuff
U.S., Idaho Yellowstone hotspot 6,400,000 750 km3
Bruneau-Jarbidge caldera Yellowstone hotspot U.S., Idaho Yellowstone hotspot
Responsible for the Ashfall Fossil Beds 1,600 km to the east[42]
950 km3
Cerro Panizos Altiplano-Puna volcanic complex Argentina, Bolivia 12,000,000 250 km3
Bennett Lake Volcanic Complex Skukum Group Canada, British Columbia/Yukon 50,000,000 850 km3

* means DRE (dense rock equivalent).

Media portrayal

  • In 2004, the TV show Naked Science covered supervolcanoes on the National Geographic Channel.
  • In 2005, a two-part television disaster film called Supervolcano aired on BBC One, the Discovery Channel, and other television networks worldwide.
  • Nova featured an episode "Mystery of the Megavolcano" in September 2006 examining such eruptions in the last 100,000 years.[46]
  • In 2006, the Sci-Fi Channel aired the documentary Countdown to Doomsday which featured a segment called "Supervolcano". The same year, ABC News aired the documentary Last Days on Earth, which featured a segment called "Supervolcano".
  • In 2009, the apocalypse-themed film 2012 featured the super-eruption of the massive Yellowstone Caldera, a result of the Earth's core heating up. This made most of the United States uninhabitable.
  • The Siberian Traps and Lake Toba were featured in Animal Planet's prehistoric documentary Animal Armageddon (each in one episode), where speculation of the lifeforms they afflicted were discussed.

See also


  1. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 3 July 2017. Retrieved 22 August 2017. 
  2. ^ Wilson, C. J. N. (2001). "The 26.5ka Oruanui eruption, New Zealand: An introduction and overview". Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research. 112: 133. Bibcode:2001JVGR..112..133W. doi:10.1016/S0377-0273(01)00239-6. 
  3. ^ Harris, Stephen (1988) Fire Mountains of the West: The Cascade and Mono Lake Volcanoes, Missoula, Mountain Press.
  4. ^ Byers, Jr., F. M. (1949) Reviews: The Ancient Volcanoes of Oregon by Howel Williams Archived 8 March 2016 at the Wayback Machine., The Journal of Geology, volume 57, number 3, May 1949, page 324. Retrieved 2012-08-17.
  5. ^ supervolcano, n. Oxford English Dictionary, third edition, online version June 2012. Retrieved on 2012-08-17.
  6. ^ Supervolcanoes Archived 1 August 2003 at the Wayback Machine.. Bbc.co.uk (2000-02-03). Retrieved on 2011-11-18.
  7. ^ USGS Cascades Volcano Observatory Archived 13 February 2012 at WebCite. Vulcan.wr.usgs.gov. Retrieved on 2011-11-18.
  8. ^ de Silva, Shanaka (2008). "Arc magmatism, calderas, and supervolcanos". Geology. 36 (8): 671–672. Bibcode:2008Geo....36..671D. doi:10.1130/focus082008.1. Archived from the original on 21 May 2016. 
  9. ^ a b Bryan, S.E. (2010). "The largest volcanic eruptions on Earth". Earth-Science Reviews. 102 (3–4): 207. Bibcode:2010ESRv..102..207B. doi:10.1016/j.earscirev.2010.07.001. 
  10. ^ Keller, G (2014). "Deccan volcanism, the Chicxulub impact, and the end-Cretaceous mass extinction: Coincidence? Cause and effect?". Geological Society of America Special Papers. 505: 57. doi:10.1130/2014.2505(03). 
  11. ^ Petraglia, M.; Korisettar, R.; Boivin, N.; Clarkson, C.; Ditchfield, P.; Jones, S.; Koshy, J.; Lahr, M. M.; et al. (2007). "Middle Paleolithic Assemblages from the Indian Subcontinent Before and After the Toba Super-Eruption". Science. 317 (5834): 114–6. Bibcode:2007Sci...317..114P. doi:10.1126/science.1141564. PMID 17615356. 
  12. ^ Knight, M.D., Walker, G.P.L., Ellwood, B.B., and Diehl, J.F. (1986). "Stratigraphy, paleomagnetism, and magnetic fabric of the Toba Tuffs: Constraints on their sources and eruptive styles". Journal of Geophysical Research. 91: 10355–10382. Bibcode:1986JGR....9110355K. doi:10.1029/JB091iB10p10355. 
  13. ^ Ninkovich, D., Sparks, R.S.J., and Ledbetter, M.T. (1978). "The exceptional magnitude and intensity of the Toba eruption, Sumatra: An example of using deep-sea tephra layers as a geological tool". Bulletin Volcanologique. 41 (3): 286–298. Bibcode:1978BVol...41..286N. doi:10.1007/BF02597228. 
  14. ^ Rose, W.I. & Chesner, C.A. (1987). "Dispersal of ash in the great Toba eruption, 75 ka" (PDF). Geology. 15 (10): 913–917. Bibcode:1987Geo....15..913R. doi:10.1130/0091-7613(1987)15<913:DOAITG>2.0.CO;2. ISSN 0091-7613. Archived (PDF) from the original on 17 June 2010. ; Lee Siebert, Tom Simkin, Paul Kimberly Volcanoes of the World. University of California Press, 2011 ISBN 0-520-26877-6
  15. ^ Williams, M.A.J. & Royce, K. (1982). "Quaternary geology of the middle son valley, North Central India: Implications for prehistoric archaeology". Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology. 38 (3–4): 139. Bibcode:1982PPP....38..139W. doi:10.1016/0031-0182(82)90001-3. 
  16. ^ a b c Global Volcanism Program Volcanoes of the World Large Holocene Eruptions Archived 13 February 2010 at the Wayback Machine.. Volcano.si.edu. Retrieved on 2011-11-18.
  17. ^ Lindsay, J. M.; de Silva, S.; Trumbull, R.; Emmermann, R.; Wemmer, K. (2001). "La Pacana caldera, N. Chile: a re-evaluation of the stratigraphy and volcanology of one of the world's largest resurgent calderas". Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research. 106 (1–2): 145–173. Bibcode:2001JVGR..106..145L. doi:10.1016/S0377-0273(00)00270-5. 
  18. ^ Froggatt, P. C.; Nelson, C. S.; Carter, L.; Griggs, G.; Black, K. P. (13 February 1986). "An exceptionally large late Quaternary eruption from New Zealand". Nature. 319 (6054): 578–582. Bibcode:1986Natur.319..578F. doi:10.1038/319578a0. The minimum total volume of tephra is 1,200 km3 but probably nearer 2,000 km3, ... 
  19. ^ a b c Lisa A. Morgan & William C. McIntosh (2005). "Timing and development of the Heise volcanic field, Snake River Plain, Idaho, western USA". GSA Bulletin. 117 (3–4): 288–306. Bibcode:2005GSAB..117..288M. doi:10.1130/B25519.1. 
  20. ^ Salisbury, M. J.; Jicha, B. R.; de Silva, S. L.; Singer, B. S.; Jimenez, N. C.; Ort, M. H. (21 December 2010). "40Ar/39Ar chronostratigraphy of Altiplano-Puna volcanic complex ignimbrites reveals the development of a major magmatic province". Geological Society of America Bulletin. 123 (5–6): 821–840. Bibcode:2011GSAB..123..821S. doi:10.1130/B30280.1. Archived from the original on 30 January 2016. Retrieved 29 November 2015. 
  21. ^ Rejuvenation and Repeated Eruption of a 1.0 Ma Supervolcanic System at Mangakino Caldera, Taupo Volcanic Zone, New Zealand American Geophysical Union, Fall Meeting 2012, abstract #V31C-2797. Retrieved 10 September 2017.
  22. ^ BG, Mason (2004). "The size and frequency of the largest explosive eruptions on Earth". Bull Volcanol. 66 (8): 735. Bibcode:2004BVol...66..735M. doi:10.1007/s00445-004-0355-9. 
  23. ^ a b Hogg, A (2011). "Revised calendar date for the Taupo eruption derived by 14C wiggle-matching using a New Zealand kauri 14C calibration data set". The Holocene. 22 (4): 439. Bibcode:2012Holoc..22..439H. doi:10.1177/0959683611425551. 
  24. ^ Xu, JD (2013). "Climatic impact of the Millennium eruption of Changbaishan volcano in China: New insights from high-precision radiocarbon wiggle-match dating". Geophysical Research Letters. 40: 54. Bibcode:2013GeoRL..40...54X. doi:10.1029/2012GL054246. 
  25. ^ Vidal, CM (2015). "Dynamics of the major plinian eruption of Samalas in 1257 A.D. (Lombok, Indonesia)". Bull Volcanol. 77 (9): 73. Bibcode:2015BVol...77...73V. doi:10.1007/s00445-015-0960-9. 
  26. ^ Oppenheimer, Clive (2003). "Climatic, environmental and human consequences of the largest known historic eruption: Tambora volcano (Indonesia) 1815". Progress in Physical Geography. 27 (2): 230–259. doi:10.1191/0309133303pp379ra. 
  27. ^ "Santorini". Global Volcanism Program. Smithsonian Institution. Archived from the original on 4 August 2017. Retrieved 4 August 2017. 
  28. ^ Latter, J. H.; Lloyd, E. F.; Smith, I. E. M.; Nathan, S. 1992. Volcanic hazards in the Kermadec Islands and at submarine volcanoes between southern Tonga and New Zealand Archived 22 May 2010 at the Wayback Machine., Volcanic hazards information series 4. Wellington, New Zealand. Ministry of Civil Defence. 44 p.
  29. ^ "Macauley Island". Global Volcanism Program. Smithsonian Institution. 
  30. ^ Lidstrom, John (June 1972). A New Model for the Formation of Crater Lake (PDF File) (Doctor of Philosophy thesis). Corvallis, Oregon, United States of America: Oregon State University. Archived (PDF) from the original on 30 July 2017. 
  31. ^ "Kurile Lake on the Global Volcanism Program". volcano.si.edu. Archived from the original on 4 January 2017. Retrieved 3 January 2017. 
  32. ^ Froggatt, P. C. & Lowe, D. J. (1990). "A review of late Quaternary silicic and some other tephra formations from New Zealand: their stratigraphy, nomenclature, distribution, volume, and age". New Zealand Journal of Geology and Geophysics. 33: 89–109. doi:10.1080/00288306.1990.10427576. Archived from the original on 22 April 2012. 
  33. ^ I. A. Nairn; C. P. Wood; R. A. Bailey (December 1994). "The Reporoa Caldera, Taupo Volcanic Zone: source of the Kaingaroa Ignimbrites". Bulletin of Volcanology. 56 (6): 529–537. Bibcode:1994BVol...56..529N. doi:10.1007/BF00302833. Retrieved 2010-09-16. 
  34. ^ Karl D. Spinks, J.W. Cole, & G.S. Leonard 2004. Caldera Volcanism in the Taupo Volcanic Zone. In: Manville, V.R. ed. Geological Society of New Zealand/New Zealand Geophysical Society/26th New Zealand Geothermal Workshop, 6–9 December 2004, Taupo: field trip guides. Geological Society of New Zealand miscellaneous publication 117B.
  35. ^ Bailey, R. A. & Carr, R. G. (1994). "Physical geology and eruptive history of the Matahina Ignimbrite, Taupo Volcanic Zone, North Island, New Zealand". New Zealand Journal of Geology and Geophysics. 37 (3): 319–344. doi:10.1080/00288306.1994.9514624. 
  36. ^ Briggs, R.M.; Gifford, M.G.; Moyle, A.R.; Taylor, S.R.; Normaff, M.D.; Houghton, B.F.; Wilson, C.J.N. (1993). "Geochemical zoning and eruptive mixing in ignimbrites from Mangakino volcano, Taupo Volcanic Zone, New Zealand". Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research. 56 (3): 175–203. Bibcode:1993JVGR...56..175B. doi:10.1016/0377-0273(93)90016-K. 
  37. ^ Dethier, David P.; Kampf, Stephanie K. (2007). Geology of the Jemez Region II. New Mexico Geological Society. p. 499 p. Archived from the original on 17 October 2015. Retrieved 6 November 2015. 
  38. ^ Izett, Glen A. (1981). "Volcanic Ash Beds: Recorders of Upper Cenozoic Silicic Pyroclastic Volcanism in the Western United States". Journal of Geophysical Research. 86 (B11): 10200–10222. Bibcode:1981JGR....8610200I. doi:10.1029/JB086iB11p10200. 
  39. ^ Shipley, Niccole; Bindeman, Ilya; Leonov, Vladimir (18–21 October 2009). "Petrologic and Isotopic Investigation of Rhyolites from Karymshina Caldera, the Largest "Super"caldera in Kamchatka, Russia". Portland GSA Annual Meeting. Archived from the original on 8 June 2011. 
  40. ^ Leonov, V. L.; A. N. Rogozin (October 2007). "Karymshina, a giant supervolcano caldera in Kamchatka: Boundaries, structure, volume of pyroclastics". Journal of Volcanology and Seismology. SpringerLink. 1 (5): 296–309. doi:10.1134/S0742046307050028#page-1 (inactive 2017-01-03). Retrieved 2017-01-03. 
  41. ^ Ort, M. H.; de Silva, S.; Jiminez, N.; Salisbury, M.; Jicha, B. R. and Singer, B. S. Two new supereruptions in the Altiplano-Puna Volcanic Complex of the Central Andes Archived 20 October 2009 at the Wayback Machine.. Portland GSA Annual Meeting, 18–21 October 2009
  42. ^ Ashfall Fossil Beds State Historical Park. "The Ashfall Story". Archived from the original on 20 August 2006. Retrieved 8 August 2006. 
  43. ^ Soler, M.M.; Caffe, P.J; Coira, B.L.; Onoe, A.T.; Kay, S. Mahlburg (July 2007). "Geology of the Vilama caldera: A new interpretation of a large-scale explosive event in the Central Andean plateau during the Upper Miocene". Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research. 164 (1–2): 27–53. Bibcode:2007JVGR..164...27S. doi:10.1016/j.jvolgeores.2007.04.002. 
  44. ^ Ort, Michael H. (June 1993). "Eruptive processes and caldera formation in a nested downsagcollapse caldera: Cerro Panizos, central Andes Mountains". Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research. 56 (3): 221–252. Bibcode:1993JVGR...56..221O. doi:10.1016/0377-0273(93)90018-M. 
  45. ^ Lambert, Maurice B. (1978). Volcanoes. North Vancouver, British Columbia: Energy, Mines and Resources Canada. ISBN 0-88894-227-3. 
  46. ^ "Mystery of the Megavolcano" Archived 17 June 2017 at the Wayback Machine.. Pbs.org. Accessed on 2017-10-12.

Further reading

External links