List of largest volcanic eruptions

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For a list of large recorded eruptions in recent history, see List of large volcanic eruptions.
A tower of grey ash erupts above a mountain
The 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo, the largest eruption since 1912, is dwarfed by the eruptions in this list

In a volcanic eruption, lava, tephra (volcanic bombs, lapilli, and ash), and various gases are expelled from a volcanic vent or fissure. While many eruptions only pose dangers to the immediately surrounding area, Earth's largest eruptions can have a major regional or even global impact, with some affecting the climate and contributing to mass extinctions.[1][2] Volcanic eruptions can generally be characterized as either explosive eruptions, sudden ejections of rock and ash, or effusive eruptions, relatively gentle outpourings of lava.[3] A separate list is given below for each type.

All of the eruptions listed below have produced at least 1,000 km3 (240 cu mi) of lava and tephra; for explosive eruptions, this corresponds to a Volcanic Explosivity Index (or VEI) of 8.[4] They are at least a thousand times larger than the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens, which produced only 1 km3 (0.2 cu mi) of material,[5] and at least six times larger than the 1815 eruption of Mount Tambora, the largest eruption in recent history, which produced 160 km3 (38 cu mi) of volcanic deposits.

There have probably been many such eruptions during Earth's history beyond those shown in these lists. However erosion and plate tectonics have taken their toll, and many eruptions have not left enough evidence for geologists to establish their size. Even for the eruptions listed here, estimates of the volume erupted can be subject to considerable uncertainty.[6]

Explosive eruptions[edit]

In explosive eruptions, the eruption of magma is driven by the rapid release of pressure, often involving the explosion of gas previously dissolved within the material. The most famous and destructive historical eruptions are mainly of this type. An eruptive phase can consist of a single eruption, or a sequence of several eruptions spread over several days, weeks or months. Explosive eruptions usually involve thick, highly viscous, silicic or felsic magma, high in volatiles like water vapor and carbon dioxide. Pyroclastic materials are the primary product, typically in the form of tuff. Eruptions the size of that at Lake Toba 74,000 years ago, at least 2,800 cubic kilometres (670 cu mi), or the Yellowstone eruption 620,000 years ago, around 1,000 cubic kilometres (240 cu mi), occur worldwide every 50,000 to 100,000 years.[1][n 1]

Volcano—Eruption[7] Age (Ma)[n 2] Location Volume (km3)[n 3] Notes Refs
Guarapuava —Tamarana—Sarusas 132  Paraná and Etendeka traps 8,600 Existence as a single volcano is controversial. Possibly a volcano chain.[6] [6]
Santa Maria—Fria ~132  Paraná and Etendeka traps 7,800 Existence as a single volcano is controversial. Possibly a volcano chain.[6] [6]
Guarapuava —Ventura ~132  Paraná and Etendeka traps 7,600 Existence as a single volcano is controversial. Possibly a volcano chain.[6] [6]
Sam Ignimbrite and Green Tuff 29.5  Yemen 6,800 Volume includes 5550 km³ of distal tuffs. This estimate is uncertain to a factor of 2 or 3. [8]
Goboboseb–Messum volcanic centre—Springbok quartz latite unit 132  Paraná and Etendeka traps, Brazil and Namibia 6,340 [9]
Caxias do Sul—Grootberg ~132  Paraná and Etendeka traps 5,650 [6]
La Garita CalderaFish Canyon tuff 27.8  San Juan volcanic field, Colorado 5,000 Part of at least 20 large caldera-forming eruptions in the San Juan volcanic field and surrounding area that formed around 26 to 35 Ma. [10][11]
Jacui—Goboboseb II ~132  Paraná and Etendeka traps 4,350 [6]
Ourinhos—Khoraseb ~132  Paraná and Etendeka traps 3,900 [6]
Jabal Kura'a Ignimbrite 29.6  Yemen 3,800 Volume estimate is uncertain to a factor of 2 or 3. [8]
Windows Butte tuff 31.4  William's Ridge, central Nevada 3,500 Part of the Mid-Tertiary ignimbrite flare-up [12][13]
Anita Garibaldi—Beacon ~132  Paraná and Etendeka traps 3,450 [6]
Indian Peak Caldera Complex—Wah Wah Springs tuff 29.5  Eastern Nevada/Western Utah 3,200 Indian Peak Caldera Complex total volume over 10,000 cubic km, Wah Wah Springs tuff being the largest [14][15]
Oxaya ignimbrites 19  Chile 3,000 Really a regional correlation of many ignimbrites originally thought to be distinct [16]
Lund Tuff 29  Great Basin, USA 3,000 Similar in composition to the Fish Canyon Tuff [17]
Lake Toba—Youngest Toba Tuff 0.073 Sunda Arc, Indonesia 2,800 Largest eruption on earth in at least the last 25 million years,[contradictory] responsible for a population bottleneck of the human species (see Toba catastrophe theory) [18]
Pacana Caldera—Atana ignimbrite 4  Chile 2,800 Forms a resurgent caldera. [19]
Iftar Alkalb—Tephra 4 W 29.5  Afro-Arabian 2,700 [6]
Yellowstone calderaHuckleberry Ridge Tuff 2.059 Yellowstone hotspot 2,450 Largest Yellowstone eruption on record [20]
Whakamaru 0.254 Taupo Volcanic Zone, New Zealand 2,000 Largest in the Southern Hemisphere in the Late Quaternary [21]
Palmas BRA-21—Wereldsend 29.5  Paraná and Etendeka traps 1,900 [6]
Kilgore tuff 4.3  Near Kilgore, Idaho 1,800 Last of the eruptions from the Heise volcanic field [22]
Sana'a Ignimbrite—Tephra 2W63 29.5  Afro-Arabian 1,600 [6]
Millbrig eruptions—Bentonites 454  England, exposed in Northern Europe and Eastern US 1,509[n 4] One of the oldest large eruptions preserved [7][23][24]
Blacktail tuff 6.5  Blacktail, Idaho 1,500 First of several eruptions from the Heise volcanic field [22]
Emory Caldera—Kneeling Nun tuff 33  Southwestern New Mexico 1,310 [25]
Timber Mountain tuff 11.6  Southwestern Nevada 1,200 Also includes a 900 cubic km tuff as a second member in the tuff [26]
Paintbrush tuff (Topopah Spring Member) 12.8  Southwestern Nevada 1,200 Related to a 1000 cubic km tuff (Tiva Canyon Member) as another member in the Paintbrush tuff [26]
Bachelor—Carpenter Ridge tuff 28  San Juan volcanic field 1,200 Part of at least 20 large caldera-forming eruptions in the San Juan volcanic field and surrounding area that formed around 26 to 35 Ma [11]
Bursum—Apache Springs Tuff 28.5  Southern New Mexico 1,200 Related to a 1050 cubic km tuff, the Bloodgood Canyon tuff [27]
Taupo VolcanoOruanui eruption 0.027 Taupo volcanic zone, New Zealand 1,170 Most recent VEI 8 eruption [28]
Huaylillas Ignimbrite 15  Bolivia 1,100 Predates half of the uplift of the central Andes [29]
Bursum—Bloodgood Canyon tuff 28.5  Southern New Mexico 1,050 Related to a 1200 cubic km tuff, the Apache Springs tuff [27]
Yellowstone CalderaLava Creek Tuff 0.639 Yellowstone hotspot 1,000 Last large eruption in the Yellowstone National Park area [30]
Cerro Galán 2.2  Catamarca Province, Argentina 1,000 Elliptical caldera is ~35 km wide [31]
Paintbrush tuff (Tiva Canyon Member) 12.7  Southwestern Nevada 1,000 Related to a 1200 cubic km tuff (Topopah Spring Member) as another member in the Paintbrush tuff [26]
San Juan—Sapinero Mesa Tuff 28  San Juan volcanic field 1,000 Part of at least 20 large caldera-forming eruptions in the San Juan volcanic field and surrounding area that formed around 26 to 35 Ma [11]
Uncompahgre—Dillon & Sapinero Mesa Tuffs 28.1  San Juan volcanic field 1,000 Part of at least 20 large caldera-forming eruptions in the San Juan volcanic field and surrounding area that formed around 26 to 35 Ma [11]
Platoro—Chiquito Peak tuff 28.2  San Juan volcanic field 1,000 Part of at least 20 large caldera-forming eruptions in the San Juan volcanic field and surrounding area that formed around 26 to 35 Ma [11]
Mount Princeton—Wall Mountain tuff 35.3  Thirtynine Mile volcanic area, Colorado 1,000 Helped cause the exceptional preservation at Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument [32]

Effusive eruptions[edit]

A red-hot lava flow streams out of a fuming vent, meandering past the viewer under a low cloudy sky.
Effusive eruption of lava from Krafla, Iceland

Effusive eruptions involve a relatively gentle, steady outpouring of lava rather than large explosions. They can continue for years or decades, producing extensive fluid mafic lava flows.[33] For example, Kīlauea on Hawaiʻi has continued erupting from 1983 to the present, producing 2.7 km3 (1 cu mi) of lava covering more than 100 km2 (40 sq mi).[34] One of the largest effusive eruption in history occurred in Iceland during the 1783–1784 eruption of Laki, which produced about 15 km3 (4 cu mi) of lava and killed one fifth of Iceland's population.[33] The ensuing disruptions to the climate may also have killed millions elsewhere.[35] Still larger were the eruptions of Katla (Eldgjá eruption) circa 934, with 18 km3 (4 cu mi) of erupted lava, and the Þjórsárhraun eruption of the Bárðarbunga volcano circa 6700 BC with 25 km3 (6 cu mi) lava erupted, and is the largest effusive eruption in the last 10.000 years.[36] The lava fields of these eruptions measure 565 km2 (Laki), 700 km2 (Eldgjá) and 950 km2 (Þjórsárhraun), being the largest on Earth.

Eruption Age (Ma) Location Volume
(km3)
Notes Refs
Mahabaleshwar–Rajahmundry Traps (Upper) 64.8 Deccan traps, India 9,300 [6]
Wapshilla Ridge flows ~15.5 Columbia River Basalt Group, United States 5,000–10,000 Member comprises 8–10 flows with a total volume of ~50,000 km3 [37]
McCoy Canyon flow 15.6 Columbia River Basalt Group, United States 4,300 [37]
Umtanum flows ~15.6 Columbia River Basalt Group, United States 2,750 Two flows with a total volume of 5,500 km3 [6]
Sand Hollow flow 15.3 Columbia River Basalt Group, United States 2,660 [6]
Pruitt Draw flow 16.5 Columbia River Basalt Group, United States 2,350 [37]
Museum flow 15.6 Columbia River Basalt Group, United States 2,350 [37]
Moonaree Dacite 1591  Gawler Range Volcanics, Australia 2,050 One of the oldest large eruptions preserved [6]
Rosalia flow 14.5 Columbia River Basalt Group, United States 1,900 [6]
Joseph Creek flow 16.5 Columbia River Basalt Group, United States 1,850 [37]
Ginkgo Basalt 15.3 Columbia River Basalt Group, United States 1,600 [6]
California Creek—Airway Heights flow 15.6 Columbia River Basalt Group, United States 1,500 [37]
Stember Creek flow 15.6 Columbia River Basalt Group, United States 1,200 [37]

Large igneous provinces[edit]

The Siberian Traps underlie much of Russia, from the Lena River west to the Ural Mountains (around 3,000 km), and stretching south from the Arctic coast almost to Lake Baikal (around 2,000 km).
Extent of the Siberian Traps large igneous province (map in German)

Highly active periods of volcanism in what are called large igneous provinces have produced huge oceanic plateaus and flood basalts in the past. These can comprise hundreds of large eruptions, producing millions of cubic kilometers of lava in total. No large flood basalt type eruptions have occurred in human history, the most recent having occurred over 10 million years ago. They are often associated with breakup of supercontinents such as Pangea in the geologic record,[38] and may have contributed to a number of mass extinctions. Most large igneous provinces have either not been studied thoroughly enough to establish the size of their component eruptions, or are not preserved well enough to make this possible. Many of the eruptions listed above thus come from just two large igneous provinces: the Paraná and Etendeka traps and the Columbia River Basalt Group. The latter is the most recent large igneous province, and also one of the smallest.[35] A list of large igneous provinces follows to provide some indication of how many large eruptions may be missing from the lists given here.

Igneous province Age (Ma) Location Volume (millions of km3) Notes Refs
Ontong Java–Manihiki–Hikurangi Plateau 121  Southwest Pacific Ocean 59–77[n 5] Largest igneous body on Earth, later split into three widely separated oceanic plateaus, with a fourth component perhaps now accreted onto South America. Possibly linked to the Louisville hotspot. [39][40][41]
Kerguelen Plateau–Broken Ridge 112  South Indian Ocean, Kerguelen Islands 17[n 5] Linked to the Kerguelen hotspot. Volume includes Broken Ridge and the Southern and Central Kerguelen Plateau (produced 120–95 Ma), but not the Northern Kerguelen Plateau (produced after 40 Ma). [42][43]
North Atlantic Igneous Province 55.5 North Atlantic Ocean 6.6[n 6] Linked to the Iceland hotspot. [7][44]
Mid-Tertiary ignimbrite flare-up 32.5 Southwest United States: mainly in Colorado, Nevada, Utah, and New Mexico 5.5 Mostly andesite to rhyolite explosive (.5 million km3) to effusive (5 million km3) eruptions, 25–40 Ma. Includes many volcanic centers, including the San Juan volcanic field. [45]
Caribbean large igneous province 88  Caribbean-Colombian oceanic plateau 4 Linked to the Galápagos hotspot. [46]
Siberian Traps 249.4 Siberia, Russia 1–4 A large outpouring of lava on land, thought to have caused Permian-Triassic extinction, largest mass extinction event ever. [47]
Karoo-Ferrar 183  Mainly Southern Africa and Antarctica. Also South America, India, Australia and New Zealand 2.5 Formed as Gondwana broke up [48]
Paraná and Etendeka traps 133  Brazil/Angola and Namibia 2.3 Linked to the Tristan hotspot [49][50]
Central Atlantic Magmatic Province 200  Laurasia continents 2 Formed as Pangea broke up [51]
Deccan Traps 66 Deccan Plateau, India 1.5 May have helped kill the dinosaurs. [52][53]
Emeishan Traps 256.5 Southwestern China 1 Along with Siberian Traps, may have contributed to the Permian–Triassic extinction event. [54]
Coppermine River Group 1267  Mackenzie Large Igneous Province/Canadian Shield 0.65 Consists of at least 150 individual flows. [55]
Afro-Arabian flood volcanism 28.5 Ethiopia/Yemen/Afar, Arabian-Nubian Shield 0.35 Associated with silicic, explosive tuffs [56][57]
Columbia River Basalt Group 16  Pacific Northwest, United States 0.18 Well exposed by Missoula Floods in the Channeled Scablands. [58]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Certain felsic provinces, such as the Chon Aike province in Argentina and the Whitsunday igneous province of Australia are not included in this list since they are composed of many separate eruptions that have not been distinguished.
  2. ^ Dates are an average of the range of dates of volcanics
  3. ^ These volumes are estimated total volumes of tephra ejected. If the available sources only report a dense rock equivalent volume, the number is italicized but not converted into a tephra volume.
  4. ^ Also the site of 972 and 943 km3 (233 and 226 cu mi) eruptions.
  5. ^ a b This is the volume of crustal thickening, so the figure includes intrusive as well as extrusive deposits.
  6. ^ Actually several provinces, ranging in size from 1.5 to 6.6 million km3

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