No single model for supersized eruptions and their magma bodies

Colin J.N. Wilson, George F. Cooper, Katy J. Chamberlain, Simon J. Barker, Madison L. Myers, Finnigan Illsley-Kemp, Jamie Farrell

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Supereruptions are the largest explosive volcanic eruptions on Earth. They generate catastrophic, widespread ash-fall blankets and voluminous ignimbrites, with accompanying caldera collapse. However, the mechanisms of generation, storage and evacuation of the parental silicic magma bodies remain controversial. In this Review, we synthesize field, laboratory and petrological evidence from 13 Quaternary supereruptions to illustrate the range of diversity in these phenomena. Supereruptions can start mildly over weeks to months before escalating into climactic activity, or go into vigorous activity immediately. Individual supereruptions can occupy periods of days to weeks, or be prolonged over decades. The magmatic sources vary from single bodies of magma to multiple magma bodies that are simultaneously or sequentially tapped. In all 13 cases, the crystal-rich (>50–60% crystals), deep roots (>10 km) of the magmatic systems had lifetimes of tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of years or more. In contrast, the erupted magmas were assembled at shallower depths (4–10 km) on shorter timescales, sometimes within centuries. Geological knowledge of past events, combined with modern geophysical techniques, demonstrate how large silicic caldera volcanoes (that have had past supereruptions) operate today. Future research is particularly needed to better constrain the processes behind modern volcanic unrest and the signals that might herald an impending volcanic eruption, regardless of size.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)610-627
Number of pages18
JournalNature Reviews Earth and Environment
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 30 Sept 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
C.J.N.W. has been supported by the Marsden Fund grant VUW0813 (Royal Society of New Zealand), a James Cook Fellowship (Royal Society of New Zealand) and the ECLIPSE Programme, funded by the New Zealand Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment. G.F.C. is supported by a NERC Standard Grant (NE/T000317/1), M.L.M. is supported by an NSF CAREER grant (EAR 2042662) and S.J.B. acknowledges Marsden Fund grant VUW1627.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021, Springer Nature Limited.


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