List of largest volcanic eruptions
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. Volcanic eruptions can generally be characterized as either explosive eruptions, sudden ejections of rock and ash, or effusive eruptions, relatively gentle outpourings of lava. 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. 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, 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.
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.[n 1]
|Volcano—eruption||Age (Millions of years)[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.|||
|Santa Maria—Fria||~132||Paraná and Etendeka traps||7,800||Existence as a single volcano is controversial. Possibly a volcano chain.|||
|Guarapuava —Ventura||~132||Paraná and Etendeka traps||7,600||Existence as a single volcano is controversial. Possibly a volcano chain.|||
|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.|||
|Goboboseb–Messum volcanic centre—Springbok quartz latite unit||132||Paraná and Etendeka traps, Brazil and Namibia||6,340|||
|Caxias do Sul—Grootberg||~132||Paraná and Etendeka traps||5,650|||
|La Garita Caldera—Fish 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.|||
|Jacui—Goboboseb II||~132||Paraná and Etendeka traps||4,350|||
|Ourinhos—Khoraseb||~132||Paraná and Etendeka traps||3,900|||
|Jabal Kura'a Ignimbrite||29.6||Yemen||3,800||Volume estimate is uncertain to a factor of 2 or 3.|||
|Windows Butte tuff||31.4||William's Ridge, central Nevada||3,500||Part of the Mid-Tertiary ignimbrite flare-up|||
|Anita Garibaldi—Beacon||~132||Paraná and Etendeka traps||3,450|||
|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|||
|Oxaya ignimbrites||19||Chile||3,000||Really a regional correlation of many ignimbrites originally thought to be distinct|||
|Lund Tuff||29||Great Basin, USA||3,000||Similar in composition to the Fish Canyon Tuff|||
|Lake Toba—Youngest Toba Tuff||0.073||Sunda Arc, Indonesia||2,800||Largest known 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)|||
|Pacana Caldera—Atana ignimbrite||4||Chile||2,800||Forms a resurgent caldera.|||
|Iftar Alkalb—Tephra 4 W||29.5||Afro-Arabian||2,700|||
|Yellowstone Caldera—Huckleberry Ridge Tuff||2.059||Yellowstone hotspot||2,450||Largest Yellowstone eruption on record|||
|Whakamaru||0.254||Taupo Volcanic Zone, New Zealand||2,000||Largest in the Southern Hemisphere in the Late Quaternary|||
|Palmas BRA-21—Wereldsend||29.5||Paraná and Etendeka traps||1,900|||
|Kilgore tuff||4.3||Near Kilgore, Idaho||1,800||Last of the eruptions from the Heise volcanic field|||
|Sana'a Ignimbrite—Tephra 2W63||29.5||Afro-Arabian||1,600|||
|Millbrig eruptions—Bentonites||454||England, exposed in Northern Europe and Eastern US||1,509[n 4]||One of the oldest large eruptions preserved|||
|Blacktail tuff||6.5||Blacktail, Idaho||1,500||First of several eruptions from the Heise volcanic field|||
|Emory Caldera—Kneeling Nun tuff||33||Southwestern New Mexico||1,310|||
|Timber Mountain tuff||11.6||Southwestern Nevada||1,200||Also includes a 900 cubic km tuff as a second member in the tuff|||
|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|||
|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|||
|Bursum—Apache Springs Tuff||28.5||Southern New Mexico||1,200||Related to a 1050 cubic km tuff, the Bloodgood Canyon tuff|||
|Taupo Volcano—Oruanui eruption||0.027||Taupo Volcanic Zone, New Zealand||1,170||Most recent VEI 8 eruption|||
|Huaylillas Ignimbrite||15||Bolivia||1,100||Predates half of the uplift of the central Andes|||
|Bursum—Bloodgood Canyon tuff||28.5||Southern New Mexico||1,050||Related to a 1200 cubic km tuff, the Apache Springs tuff|||
|Yellowstone Caldera—Lava Creek Tuff||0.639||Yellowstone hotspot||1,000||Last large eruption in the Yellowstone National Park area|||
|Cerro Galán||2.2||Catamarca Province, Argentina||1,000||Elliptical caldera is ~35 km wide|||
|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|||
|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|||
|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|||
|Platoro—Chiquito Peak tuff||28.2||San Juan volcanic field||1,000|||
|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|||
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. 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). Despite their ostensibly benign appearance, effusive eruptions are no less dangerous than explosive ones: one of the largest effusive eruptions 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. The ensuing disruptions to the climate may also have killed millions elsewhere. Still larger were the eruptions of Katla (the Eldgjá eruption) circa 934, with 18 km3 (4 cu mi) of erupted lava, and the Þjórsárhraun eruption of Bárðarbunga circa 6700 BC, with 25 km3 (6 cu mi) lava erupted, the latter being the largest effusive eruption in the last 10.000 years. The lava fields of these eruptions measure 565 km2 (Laki), 700 km2 (Eldgjá) and 950 km2 (Þjórsárhraun).
|Eruption||Age (Millions of years)||Location||Volume
|Mahabaleshwar–Rajahmundry Traps (Upper)||64.8||Deccan Traps, India||9,300|||
|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|||
|McCoy Canyon flow||15.6||Columbia River Basalt Group, United States||4,300|||
|Umtanum flows||~15.6||Columbia River Basalt Group, United States||2,750||Two flows with a total volume of 5,500 km3|||
|Sand Hollow flow||15.3||Columbia River Basalt Group, United States||2,660|||
|Pruitt Draw flow||16.5||Columbia River Basalt Group, United States||2,350|||
|Museum flow||15.6||Columbia River Basalt Group, United States||2,350|||
|Moonaree Dacite||1591||Gawler Range Volcanics, Australia||2,050||One of the oldest large eruptions preserved|||
|Rosalia flow||14.5||Columbia River Basalt Group, United States||1,900|||
|Joseph Creek flow||16.5||Columbia River Basalt Group, United States||1,850|||
|Ginkgo Basalt||15.3||Columbia River Basalt Group, United States||1,600|||
|California Creek–Airway Heights flow||15.6||Columbia River Basalt Group, United States||1,500|||
|Stember Creek flow||15.6||Columbia River Basalt Group, United States||1,200|||
Large igneous provinces
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 eruptions of flood basalts 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, 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. 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 (Millions of years)||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.|||
|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).|||
|North Atlantic Igneous Province||55.5||North Atlantic Ocean||6.6[n 6]||Linked to the Iceland hotspot.|||
|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.|||
|Caribbean large igneous province||88||Caribbean–Colombian oceanic plateau||4||Linked to the Galápagos hotspot.|||
|Siberian Traps||249.4||Siberia, Russia||1–4||A large outpouring of lava on land, believed to have caused the Permian–Triassic extinction event, the largest mass extinction ever.|||
|Karoo-Ferrar||183||Mainly Southern Africa and Antarctica. Also South America, India, Australia and New Zealand||2.5||Formed as Gondwana broke up|||
|Paraná and Etendeka traps||133||Brazil/Angola and Namibia||2.3||Linked to the Tristan hotspot|||
|Central Atlantic magmatic province||200||Laurasia continents||2||Formed as Pangaea broke up|||
|Deccan Traps||66||Deccan Plateau, India||1.5||May have helped kill the dinosaurs.|||
|Emeishan Traps||256.5||Southwestern China||1||Along with Siberian Traps, may have contributed to the Permian–Triassic extinction event.|||
|Coppermine River Group||1267||Mackenzie Large Igneous Province/Canadian Shield||0.65||Consists of at least 150 individual flows.|||
|Afro-Arabian flood volcanism||28.5||Ethiopia/Yemen/Afar, Arabian-Nubian Shield||0.35||Associated with silicic, explosive tuffs|||
|Columbia River Basalt Group||16||Pacific Northwest, United States||0.18||Well exposed by Missoula Floods in the Channeled Scablands.|||
- Extinction event
- Lists of earthquakes
- List of impact craters on Earth
- Supervolcano#Massive explosive eruptions
- Types of eruptions
- List of Flood basalt provinces
- 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.
- Dates are an average of the range of dates of volcanics
- 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.
- Also the site of 972 and 943 km3 (233 and 226 cu mi) eruptions.
- This is the volume of crustal thickening, so the figure includes intrusive as well as extrusive deposits.
- Actually several provinces, ranging in size from 1.5 to 6.6 million km3
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