La Garita Caldera

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La Garita Caldera
Ash formations of La Garita Caldera, looking northeast (Wheeler Geologic Monument).
Highest point
Coordinates 37°45′23″N 106°56′03″W / 37.75639°N 106.93417°W / 37.75639; -106.93417Coordinates: 37°45′23″N 106°56′03″W / 37.75639°N 106.93417°W / 37.75639; -106.93417
La Garita Caldera is located in Colorado
La Garita Caldera
La Garita Caldera
Location of La Garita Caldera within Colorado
Location Mineral County, Colorado, US, near Creede
Parent range San Juan Mountains
Mountain type Caldera
Last eruption 26.3 Ma (Fish Canyon Tuff 27.8 Ma)

La Garita Caldera is a large volcanic caldera located in the San Juan volcanic field in the San Juan Mountains near the town of Creede in southwestern Colorado, United States.[1] It lies to the west of the town of La Garita, Colorado. The eruption that created the La Garita Caldera is among the largest known volcanic eruptions in Earth's history.[2][3]


The La Garita Caldera is one of a number of calderas that formed during a massive ignimbrite flare-up in Colorado, Utah and Nevada from 40–18 million years ago, and was the site of massive eruptions about 28.01± 0.04 million years ago, during the Oligocene Epoch.[4]

Area devastated[edit]

The area devastated by the La Garita eruption is thought to have covered a significant portion of what is now Colorado. The deposit, known as the Fish Canyon Tuff, covered at least 30,000 km2. Its average thickness is 100 m. The eruption might have formed a large-area ash-fall, but none has yet been identified.[5]

Size of eruption[edit]

The scale of La Garita volcanism was the second greatest of the Cenozoic Era. The resulting Fish Canyon Tuff has a volume of approximately 1,200 cubic miles (5,000 km3), rating it an 8 on the Volcanic Explosivity Index. This is enough material to fill Lake Michigan. By comparison, the May 18, 1980 eruption of Mt. St. Helens was only 0.25 cubic miles (1.0 km3) in volume.[6]

By contrast, the most powerful human-made explosive device ever detonated, the Tsar Bomba, had a yield of 50 megatons, whereas the eruption at La Garita was about 5,000 times more energetic. However, because Tsar Bomba's reaction was complete within microseconds, while a volcanic explosion can take seconds or minutes, the power of the events are comparable if measured within the respective bounded timeframes. It is the most energetic event to have taken place on Earth since the Chicxulub impact which, at 240,000 gigatons,[7] was approximately one thousand times more powerful than La Garita.


The Fish Canyon Tuff, made of dacite, is uniform in its petrological composition and forms a single cooling unit despite the huge volume. Dacite is a silicic volcanic rock common in explosive eruptions, lava domes and short thick lava flows. There are also large intracaldera lavas composed of andesite, a volcanic rock compositionally intermediate between basalt (poor in silica content) and dacite (higher silica content) in the La Garita Caldera.

The caldera itself, like the eruption of Fish Canyon Tuff, is quite large in scale. It is 35 by 75 kilometers (22 by 47 mi) and oblong in shape. Most supervolcano calderas of explosive origin are slightly ovoid or oblong in shape. Because of the vast scale and erosion, it took scientists over 30 years to fully determine the size of the caldera. La Garita can be considered a "supervolcano", albeit an extinct one.

La Garita is also the source of at least 7 major eruptions of welded tuff deposits over a time span of 1.5 million years since the Fish Canyon Tuff eruption. The caldera is also known to have extensive outcrops of a very unusual lava-like rock made of dacite that is very similar to that of the Fish Canyon Tuff. This rock, which has characteristics of both lava and welded tuff, was erupted probably shortly before the Fish Canyon Tuff. The lava-like rock has been interpreted as having erupted as thick spatter during low-energy lava fountaining. The lava-like rock is also voluminous — up to 200–300 cubic kilometers (48–72 cu mi). The dacite lava-like unit call Pagosa Peak Dacite. These rocks had been identify as lava, because units has a high aspect ratio (1:50) and very high viscosity of the crystal-rich magma similar to those of flow-layered silicic lava. However, Pagosa Peak Dacite formed by low-column pyroclastic fountaining and lateral transport as dense, poorly inflated pyroclastic flows.[8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Steven, Thomas A.; Lipman, Peter W. (1976). "Calderas of the San Juan Volcanic Field, Southwestern Colorado". U.S. Geological Survey Professional Papers (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office) 958: 1–35. Retrieved 2012-05-16. 
  2. ^ "What's the Biggest Volcanic Eruption Ever?". November 10, 2010. Retrieved 2014-02-01. 
  3. ^ Best, MG (2013). "The 36–18 Ma Indian Peak–Caliente ignimbrite field and calderas, southeastern Great Basin, USA: Multicyclic super-eruptions". Geosphere. doi:10.1130/GES00902.1. 
  4. ^ Phillips, D (2013). "Ultra-high precision 40Ar/39Ar ages for Fish Canyon Tuff and Alder Creek Rhyolite sanidine: New dating standards required?". Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta. doi:10.1016/j.gca.2013.07.003. 
  5. ^ Lipman3, PW (2000). "Central San Juan caldera cluster: regional volcanic framework". Geological Society of America Special Papers. doi:10.1130/0-8137-2346-9.9. 
  6. ^ Mason, et al.
  7. ^ Hildebrand; et al. (1998). "Mapping Chicxulub crater structure with gravity and seismic reflection data". The Geological Society. 
  8. ^ Bachmann, O.; Dungan, M.A.; Lipman, P.W. (May 2000). "Voluminous lava-like precursor to a major ash-flow tuff: low-column pyroclastic eruption of the Pagosa Peak Dacite, San Juan volcanic field, Colorado". Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research 98 (1–4): 153–171. doi:10.1016/S0377-0273(99)00185-7. Retrieved 24 September 2015. 


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