GENERATION MECHANISMS FROM VOLCANIC SOURCES
from presentation at the 2004 National Science Foundation Tsunami
Workshop in San Juan, Puerto Rico , and from other papers published
in the Journal of Tsunami Hazards, http://www.STHJOURNAL.ORG
and review of the literature.
eruptions, volcanic island flank failures and sub aerial and
underwater landslides have generated numerous destructive tsunamis
in the world's oceans and seas. Convergent, compressional and
collisional tectonic activity is responsible for zones of subduction,
the formation of island arcs and the evolution of particular
volcanic centers on the overlying plates. Inter-plate tectonic
interaction and deformation along marginal tectonic boundaries
results in seismic and volcanic events that can generate tsunamis
by a number of different mechanisms.
processes in mid-ocean or along contintental boundaries create
arcs of islands with volcanoes characterized by both effusive
and explosive activity. The eruption mechanisms are complex and
often anomalous. For example, lava dome collapses often precede
major eruptions of volcanoes in the Eastern Caribbean Region
and these eruptions may vary in intensity from Strombolian to
Plinian. Their style of eruptive activity contributes to the
development of unstable flanks. Destructive local tsunamis may
be generated from both aerial and submarine volcanic edifice
mass edifice flank failures, which may be triggered by volcanic
episodes, lava dome collapses, or simply by gravitational instabilities.
Locally catastrophic, short-period tsunami-like waves can also
be generated directly by lateral, direct or channelized volcanic
blast episodes, or in combination with collateral air pressure
perturbations, nuess ardentes, pyroclastic flows, lahars, or
cascading debris avalanches. Submarine volcanic caldera collapses
can also generate local destructive tsunami waves.
Satellite Photo of
the Santorin volcano in the Aegean Sea showing the large submarine
caldera created by the 1490 BC eruption and collapse. The island
in the middle - Nea Kameni - was formed by subsequent eruptive
activity of the volcano.
Oceanic, basalt shield
volcanoes have different styles of eruption, thus their mechanisms
of flank failures and of tsunami generation differ from those
of volcanoes along continental boundaries. However all types
of volcanoes can undergo large scale flank failures which can
generate destructive tsunamis.
Based on what appear
to be debris avalanches or toes of large scale landslides on
the ocean floor, it has been postulated that "mega-tsunamis"
were generated in the distant geologic past by massive volcanic
flank failures in the Canary, Cape Verde and Hawaiian islands,
as well as elsewhere in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans.
(1992, 2002, 2003) evaluated mega-tsunami generation from prehistoric
and postulated massive landslides and flank failures of oceanic
basalt shield stratovolcanoes such as Kilauea, Mauna Loa, Cumbre
Vieja, Cumbre Nueva, Taburiente and Piton De La Fournaise, and
from the explosions/collapses of continental stratovolcanoes
linked to catastrophic phreatomagmatic episodes of Plinian and
Ultra-Plinian intensities, such as those that occurred at Krakatau
and Santorin. Some of these volcanic sources of tsunami generation
were realistically modeled in estimating the near and far field
wave characteristics (Mader, 2001; Le Friant, 2001;
Volcani Flank failure
of the Soufriere Hills volcano on the island of Monteserrat,
in the Eastern Caribbean.
The present report
evaluates volcanic mechanisms, resulting flank failure processes
and their potential for tsunami generation.
coastal flank of the volcano of Santorin which appears to have
collapsed, at the time of the explosive eruption of Santorin
in the 15th century BC
OF TSUNAMI GENERATION FROM VOLCANIC SOURCES
slope failures and gravitational flank collapses of stratovolcanoes
that can generate destructive tsunami or tsunami-like waves can
be caused by different mechanisms, individually or in combination.
The triggering mechanisms and extent of flank failures may be
significantly different for volcanoes around the world, depending
on the geochemistry of lava and ejecta and the eruptive styles
and intensities. Whether a stratovolcano has effusive or explosive
eruptive activity will determine the relative stability of its
slopes. Thus, volcanoes with lavas of high andecitic composition
and explosive type of eruptive activity tend to have steeper
and more unstable flanks that can often massively fail. However,
even shield stratovolcanoes - characterized by mainly effusive
activity - can have significant flank failures. The following
is a brief review of different mechanisms that can result in
volcanic flank failures and the generation of tsunami or tsunami
Volcanic flank failures
may result from isostatic load adjustments, extensive erosion,
gaseous pressures, violent phreatomagmatic eruptions, magmastatic
pressures, gravitational collapses of magmatic chambers, dike
and cryptodome intrusions, as well as from buildup of hydrothermal
and supra hydrostatic pore fluid pressures.
Large scale gradual
flank failure of the southern flank of the Kilauea volcano in
Hawaii and generating source region of the August 29, 1975 tsunami.
Mechanisms of Shield Volcanoes
basalt shield volcanoes have different styles of eruption, their
mechanisms of flank failures and of tsunami generation differ
somewhat from those of volcanoes along continental boundaries.
Most of the basaltic stratovolcanoes have Hawaiian styles of
eruptions, which usually involve less explosivity and passive
lava flows because of lower silica, gas content and ejecta viscosity.
Occasional sudden gas releases may produce explosive lava fountains
and unstable pyroclastic deposits. Small scale hydromagmatic
explosions can also occur near the coast. Examples would be those
that formed the Diamond Head and Coco Head craters on the island
of Oahu, in Hawaii. However, most of the eruptions of shield
volcanoes are usually confined near summit calderas or along
flank craters and vents. Resulting slides from unconsolidated
pyroclastics usually involve relatively small volumes of material,
which rarely reach the sea to generate waves of any consequence.
However, destructive tsunamis can be generated from massive volcanic
edifice failures of larger blocks which may be triggered by large
scale magmatic chamber collapses, erosion, gaseous pressure,
phreatomagmatic and forced dike injection, or by isostatic and
gravity induced kinematic changes
2002). Any of these processes can trigger large volcanic
mass failures of shield volcanoes, alone or in combination with
of unsupported magmatic chambers can exert shear forces primarily
in the direction parallel to the failure, rather at the more
effective right angle. However massive caldera collapses are
usually associated with violent Strombolian, Surtsean, Plinian
and Ultra-Plinian volcanic eruptions, rather than with eruptions
of shield volcanoes.
photo of the volcano of Piton De La Fournaise on Reunion Island
in the Indian Ocean, which shows concentric caldera collapses
and large scale flank failure.
(Left) Satellite photo
of the volcano of Nissyros and its collaped caldera, at the eastern
end of the Aegean Sea volcanic arc - which includes the volcanoes
of Methana, Milos and Santorin. In recent years a fracture has
developed on the crater floor.
The triggering mechanism
of the last violent paroxysmal eruptive phase of a colossal or
super-collosal volcanic eruption such as those of Krakatau and
Santorin, may be hydromagmatic or the result of extreme gaseous
pressures building below high viscosity magmatic residues. Usually,
caldera collapses occur by the engulfment of the unsupported
upper cone into the drained magmatic chambers of a volcano after
the final paroxysmal phase.
However, in the case of the Krakatau
or Santorin, the estimated volumes of ejected pumice and other
pyroclastic debris were considerably less than the volumes of
the caldera depressions (Pararas-Carayannis, 2002). The
volume discrepancies suggest a possible mechanism for the explosive
removal of the upper volcanic cone, rather than its total engulfment,
or perhaps a combination of the two processes. Also, the volume
discrepancy may be related to the size of empty magmatic chambers,
to lateral material movement, and to adjacent underwater slope
failures. Caldera collapse is not necessarily a sudden and total
process. Often, the collapse process occurs in phases. This may
result in the formation of ring dikes indicating post-collapse
magmatic intrusion along fractures formed by the subsidence of
the roof of the magma chamber.
of the Kick'em Jenny Volcano near the island of Grenada
Regardless of the
form or severity of volcanic explosive activity, collapse processes
on any volcano may create large depressions that resemble Krakatoan
calderas, or double pit craters such as those observed at the
summit of shield volcanoes like Kilauea in Hawaii, or Taburiente
on LaPalma. Erosional processes and slides, as with the extinct
Taburiente or Koolau volcanoes, can contribute significantly
to the post-eruption enlargement of calderas.
of the Loihi Seamount south of the Island of Hawaii
the main force responsible for any slope failure is always gravity,
an event of considerable force is needed to trigger the movement
of a large mass of a volcanic flank. Slope failure due to gravity
alone, is a function of the angle of repose at which the volcanic
materials were deposited as the volcanoes built up. On the flat
ocean floor surface, the force of gravity acts downward, so nothing
moves. On a young volcanic island - still in its shield building
phase - extruded lava flows find their own natural angles of
repose, above and below the water.
Excluding the influence
of other forces, underwater slopes of young oceanic volcanoes
are relatively stable, consisting mainly of pillow lavas. As
a stratovolcanic island builds up and loads the earth's crust,
isostatic adjustments cause flank subsidence, buckling of the
ocean floor, and offshore deeps and arches. For example, the
morphology and structural evolutionary development of the Hilina
Slump, off Kilauea's southern coast, suggest an active isostatic
adjustment process. The Hawaiian Trough and the Hawaiian Arch
are examples of isostatically-caused buckling of the ocean floor
around the island of Hawaii. Although accountable for the continuous
mobility of the volcanic flank, as observed along the southern
coast of Hawaii, this mechanism is too slow to trigger sudden
As a volcanic island
gets older, extensive erosion takes place. The deposited materials
consist primarily of unconsolidated sediments, gravels, rocks,
pyroclastics, or lavas flows reaching the sea from subsequent
flank or summit eruptions. Where a large accumulation of loose
material occurs, the flank becomes less stable. Gravity alone,
or the vertical and horizontal accelerations of an earthquake,
can trigger landslides.
La Palma Island Relief
- Extensive Erosion and Collapse of the Taburiente Caldera
For example, erosion
during the Miocene period played a key role in the evolution
of Fuerteventura and Lanzarote, the oldest of the easternmost
Canary Islands. Giant landslides reduced them considerably in
height (Stillman, 1999).
Even on La Palma,
El Hierro and Tenerife, the younger western Canary islands, which
are still in their shield stage, substantial amount of erosion
On La Palma, hundreds
of meters of sedimentary material - primarily gravel - has accumulated
on the western slope of the island primarily due to extensive
erosion of the Taburiente caldera. The gravel is mixed with basaltic
lave flows, a trend which appears to continue into the ocean.
A large surface landslide could be triggered by a large earthquake.
However the existing volcanic dikes would render some stability.
Overall the erosion
mechanism can be effective in triggering landslides, particularly
on the older islands, but not on flanks of volcanoes, still in
their shield building stage. Therefore, it is very unlikely that
a massive surface landslide of great dimensions can occur by
this mechanism on either La Palma or Hawaii. In Hawaii, for example,
the major earthquake of 1868 only triggered a surface landslide
on Mauna Loa that was only three miles long and thirty feet thick.
To overcome the shear
strength of a large volume of material, even on a relatively
unstable volcanic flank, requires a very large triggering event
and a tremendous lateral shear stress. Gaseous pressures do not
built up on shield type of volcanoes as they do prior to the
paroxysmal Plinian and Ultra-Plinian eruptions of volcanoes of
the Krakatoan variety. For example, on oceanic volcanoes such
as Cumbre Vieja and Kilauea, the eruptions are of non-explosive
types and involve primarily extrusions of pahoehoe and aa lavas,
with only small amounts of pyroclastics, usually from secondary
vents. Gaseous pressures in their magmatic chambers of shield
volcanoew do not get high.
In the case of the island of La Palma - for which a large
flank failure has been postulated - a major volcanic eruption
of Cumbre Vieja, either near the summit or along vents of its
rift zone, would not build up great gaseous pressures and could
not exert sufficient shear stress to trigger failure at the base
of the postulated mass - most of which is underwater. Recent
eruptive activity on Cumbre Vieja occurs along a concentrated
volcanic center aligned primarily with a well-defined North-South
trending rift zone in which major dike emplacement has taken
1999). Deformation by intruding magma can indeed create
a local stress field which may result in predominantly dip-slip
motion and form a rupture - as the one resulting from the 1949
eruption. However, such triggering mechanism will affect the
upper portion of the volcano and can only result in partial flank
failure. Gaseous pressure will not be a significant factor in
triggering a massive flank failure. However, for primarily andesitic
volcanoes, gaseous magnatic pressures could trigger massive flank
failures and the generation of tsunamis
activity due to ground water intrusion - from increased rainfall
activity, caused by climatic changes - has been proposed as another
possible triggering mechanism for volcanic flank failures and
giant landslides (McMurtrya et al. 1999).
As the magmatic system
comes into contact with the hydrothermal system, the expansion
of water - in the form of superheated steam - results in an explosive
type of activity that tends to weaken a volcano, perhaps to the
point of collapse. This would be particularly true for continental
type of volcanoes but not so much on oceanic shield volcanoes.
At the latter, phreatomagmatic activity is usually limited to
secondary cone eruptions and the emissions of tephra or ephritic
lava. Sea or ground water intrusion into shallow magmaric chambers
creates the superheated steam which is the primary triggering
factor of a violent phreatomagmatic eruptions. Furthermore, on
oceanic island volcanoes, this mechanism tends to initiate primarily
sub aerial collapses which may be usually limited to the upper
flanks or along secondary vents along the rift, which may be
nearer to the coast.
Additionally, and regardless of climate changes and wetter periods,
relatively young volcanic islands such as Cumbre Vieja and Kilauea
- still in the shield building stage - retain little ground water
because of greater rock porosity. Most of the rain water runs
off and is lost. There is no extensive water lens at the base,
as with older and highly eroded volcanic islands. On the younger
volcanic islands rainfall water collects in pools, surrounded
by impermeable dikes - usually in the upper slopes. Any violent
phreatomagmatic activity is usually limited to a few vents near
the summit or the upper flanks of the volcano and involves only
shallow magmatic chambers.
Forced dike injection
The forced injection of dikes
and the concurrent development of mechanical and thermal pore
fluid pressures along the upper flank or at the basal décollement
region, combined with associated magmastatic pressures at the
dike interface - as proposed by Elsworth & Day (1999) - can
indeed contribute to significant destabilization of the flank
of an active stratovolcano, such as Cumbre Vieja or Kilauea.
Whether a shallow flank or a deeper basal décollement
failure will eventually be triggered, will depend on additional
complementary destabilizing effects of mechanical magma "piston
like push" at the rear of the weakened block, and the buildup
of thermal and supra hydrostatic pore pressures - if below the
water table. Depending on the geometry and horizontal extent
of dike intrusion and its thickness, as well as on the extent
of contributing hydrothermal and mechanical factors, such combined
forces can indeed become an effective primary triggering mechanism
for larger-scale volcanic flank failures and subsequent tsunami
There is evidence that large, prehistoric flank failures were
triggered by such mechanisms. Dike and cryptodome intrusion,
as well as hydrothermal alteration in the crater area, probably
weakened and further triggered the flank collapse of the Roque
Nublo stratovolcano on Gran Canaria Island during the Pliocene
period (Mehl & Schmincke, 1999).
The massive, prehistoric,
collapse of the Monte Amarelo volcano on Fogo, in the Cape Verde
island group, appears to have been induced by radial rift zones
fed by laterally propagating dikes (Day et al 1999b).
More recent eruption
on Fogo, in 1951 and 1995, appear to be associated with episodes
of flank instability caused by now vertically propagating dikes
which manifested in normal faulting near the volcano's rift zone.
Proper interpretation of seismic data is crucial in making reasonable
predictions of volcanic flank instability associated with forced
dike injection, before or during a major eruption. For example,
seismic data was used successfully to distinguish between brittle
fracture of cold host rock and deformation in the vicinity of
intruding magma for the 1995 Fogo eruption in the Cape Verde
Islands (Heleno da Silva et al., 1999). Based on composite seismic
focal mechanism analysis, the size, depth and direction of the
dike feeding the eruption were identified. From this, an estimate
of the associated stress field was obtained and correlated with
the volcano's flank topography.
Lateral magma migration
appears to have occurred on La Palma, beginning in 1936. Stronger
seismic harmonic tremors begun in early March 1949. Their foci
distribution suggests that magma ascended from chambers beneath
the Taburiente volcano and moved along the north-south-trending
rift of Cumbre Vieja (Klügela et al, 1999). As
already mentioned, a major eruption, with phreatomagmatic activity,
begun at Duraznero crater on the ridge top (1880 m above sea
level) on June 24, 1949. The occurrence of xenoliths almost exclusively
near the end of the eruption is indicative of wall-rock gravitational
collapse at depth. The eruption was associated with subsidence
and left a two kilometer-long fracture near the summit.
The volcanic evolution of the 1949 eruption of Cumbre Vieja seems
to be typical for La Palma. Prior to and during each eruption,
there appears to be considerable shallow magma migration, which
is manifested by strong seismicity, intense faulting, and the
opening of closely spaced vents (Klügela et al, 1999).
However, it should
be noted that none of the historic eruptions in 1430/40, 1585,
1646, 1677, 1712, 1949 or in 1971, triggered a large size slope
collapse on the island. Although the flank of Cumbre Vieja may
have been somewhat destabilized by the 1949 and 1971 eruptions,
there is no indication that a critical condition has been reached,
or that the next major eruption will trigger a massive flank
Pelée" - Spectacular large lava dome which
began rising out of Mt. Pelee's crater floor in October of 1902,
and continued growing for a year. The lava dome was 350 to about
500 feet thick at its base and it reached over 1000 feet above
the crater floor.
In all cases, forced
injection of dikes and kryptodomes - and the concurrent development
of mechanical and thermal pore fluid pressures - appear to result
in seaward movement of the volcanic flank and may eventually
result in partial failures of larger scales. It is believed that
mechanical magma intrusion, primarily, and buildup of thermal
and supra hydrostatic pore pressure, secondarily , are the more
effective mechanisms for the sudden and larger scale volcanic
flank failures that can generate local destructive tsunamis.
Such was the apparent
mechanism for major past flank failures of Mauna Loa and Kilauea
volcanoes along the southern coast of Hawaii, and the cause of
the 1868 and 1975 earthquakes - neither of which generated a
destructive Pacific-wide mega tsunami
1976a, 1976b, 2002). Finally, it should be noted that
even the colossal and super-collosal, Plinian and Ultra-Plinian
eruptions of Krakatoa and Santorin volcanoes in 1883 and 1490
B.C. - which were associated with massive flank failures - generated
a mega tsunami that was destructive far away from the source
regions (Pararas-Carayannis, 2002).
Tsunami Generation Mechanisms
of Caribbean Volcanoes
The following is a
review of different factors for Caribbean volcanoes that contribute
to eruptions episodes, which may range in style and intensity
from Strombolian to Vulcanian/Plinian, but are not as catastrophic
as the Plinian and Ultra-Plinian episodes of the Krakatoan/Santorin
There is plethora
of geologic evidence indicating that volcanoes in the Caribbean
region have generated tsunamis, recently and within the last
100,000 years, by a variety of mechanisms. Destructive tsunami
waves were generated by violent sub-aerial and submarine eruptions
and accompanying earthquakes, by caldera and submarine flank
collapses, by subsidence, by atmospheric pressure waves, by lahars,
nuées ardentes, pyroclastic flows, or debris avalanches.
Also, tsunamis must have been generated from gravitational mass
edifice failures due to the characteristic flank instabilities
of the volcanoes in this region - even in the absence of obvious
triggering events. For example, earth tides could trigger such
Evaluation of flank
instabilities of Caribbean stratovolcanoes and their potential
for tsunami generation requires a closer examination of the styles,
intensity and geometry of eruption mechanisms, of precursor events,
of the time history of volcanic episodes, of the geochemistry
and composition of the lava and ejecta, as well as an assessment
of tectonic processes in the region which result in volcanic
arc stresses, back-arc spreading and an increased level of volcanic
activity. Small scale flank collapses which result in tsunami
generation are a standard phase in the evolution cycles of Caribbean
Another dramatic phot
of a massive flank failure of ths Soufriere Hills volcano on
Monteserrat of the Lesser Antilles group of islands, which generated
a local tsunami.
Finally, it should
be pointed out that, in contrast to tsunami generation from seismic
sources which cannot be predicted, the generation of tsunamis
from volcanic sources can be forecasted with proper monitoring
of precursor events, of volcanic activity and of flank instabilities.
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