Volcano tectonic earthquake

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A volcano tectonic earthquake is caused by the movement of magma beneath the surface of the Earth.[1] The movement results in pressure changes where the rock around the magma has experienced stress. At some point, this stress can cause the rock to break or move. This seismic activity is used by scientists to monitor volcanoes.[2] The earthquakes may also be related to dike intrusion or occur as earthquake swarms.[3]

Cause of volcano tectonic earthquakes[edit]

Four types of seismograms, or seismic signatures

One possible scenario resulting in a possible volcano tectonic earthquake is tectonic subduction zones. The compression of plates at these subduction zones forces the magma beneath them to move.[4] Magma can not move through the newly compressed crust in as easily a manner. This means it tends to pool in magma chambers beneath the surface and between the converging tectonic plates. Many of the famous and most well known volcanoes fall on this line, including the Ring of Fire. As the plates move, magma underground may be forced in and out of these chambers. This movement is capable of causing the unstable earth around it to cave in or shift. The movement of this magma as described causes measurable seismic activity.[4] This is separate from earthquakes directly related to faults.

Scientists monitoring volcanoes have noticed that magma movement may lead to earthquake swarms depending on the movement of magma and the interaction with rock beneath the ground. Additionally, the volatility of volcanoes and the accompanying earthquakes has been shown to be linked to dike induced stress and the interaction this causes between the magma, rock, and wall of the chamber.[3]


Nevado del Ruiz during the 1985 eruption. This eruption was one where seismic activity was monitored in order to determine that an eruption was imminent.

Volcano tectonic seismicity is an important tool in being able to predict the eruptions of volcanoes. Seismic activity occurs as a precursor to most large eruptions. We can use tectonic events to predict eruptions in long-dormant volcanoes.[2] Some notable examples of eruptions preceded by volcano tectonic earthquakes include ones at Nevado del Ruiz (1985), Pinatubo (1991), Unzen (1990), and Cotopaxi (2002). Quakes with volcano-tectonic characteristics accompany magmatic intrusions in near real time.

Use in monitoring volcanoes[edit]

Nearly every recorded volcanic eruption has been preceded by some form of earthquake activity beneath or near the volcano. Due to the relation between magma movement, earthquakes, and possible eruptions, approximately 200 of the world's volcanoes are seismically monitored.[5] The recording of several years of background seismic data has allowed for classification of volcanic earthquakes. These earthquakes tend to occur in swarms as opposed to mainshock–aftershock sequences, have smaller maximum sizes than tectonic structure earthquakes, have similar waveform patterns, increase in number before eruptions, and occur near or beneath the site of the eruption.

Other types of seismic activity monitored in relation to volcanoes and their eruptions are long period seismic waves, which are caused by sudden sporadic movement of magma that had previously not been moving due to a blockage, and harmonic tremor, which indicates steady magma movement deep in the mantle.


  1. ^ Lahr, J. C.; Chouet, B. A.; Stephens, C. D.; Power, J. A.; Page, R. A. (1994). "Earthquake classification, location, and error analysis in a volcanic environment: implications for the magmatic system of the 1989–1990 eruptions at Redoubt Volcano, Alaska" (PDF). Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research. 62 (1–4): 137–151. Bibcode:1994JVGR...62..137L. doi:10.1016/0377-0273(94)90031-0.
  2. ^ a b White, R; McCausland, W (2016). "Volcano-tectonic earthquakes: A new tool for estimating intrusive volumes and forecasting eruptions". Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research. 309: 139–155. Bibcode:2016JVGR..309..139W. doi:10.1016/j.jvolgeores.2015.10.020. ISSN 0377-0273.
  3. ^ a b Roman, D. C.; Cashman, K. V. (2006). "The origin of volcano-tectonic earthquake swarms". Geology. 34 (6): 457–460. Bibcode:2006Geo....34..457R. doi:10.1130/G22269.1.
  4. ^ a b Schmincke, H. U. (2004). Volcanism. doi:10.1007/978-3-642-18952-4. ISBN 978-3-642-62376-9.
  5. ^ McNutt, S. R. (1996), "Seismic Monitoring and Eruption Forecasting of Volcanoes: A Review of the State-of-the-Art and Case Histories", in Scarpa, Roberto; Tilling, Robert I. (eds.), Monitoring and Mitigation of Volcano Hazards, Springer Berlin Heidelberg, pp. 99–146, doi:10.1007/978-3-642-80087-0_3, ISBN 9783642800870