Largest Volcanic Eruptions in the Holocene
Most lists of large volcanic eruptions organize the list by the popular VEI scale. While this method makes sense, there are some limitations when it comes to measuring the eruptive size of past eruptions.
Simply put, we do not know all that accurately the size of many past eruptions, and due to weathering and simple lack of study, many volcanoes that likely experienced very large eruptions would get left off a list if going by the known eruptive output.
Largest Holocene Caldera Eruptions
Instead of going off measured volcanic output (where 100km^3 is a VEI-7 eruption) we are organizing this list simply by volcanoes that have experienced large caldera forming events.
While not perfect, caldera size and eruptive output are strongly related. After all, a caldera more or less represents the volume of material that was displaced from a volcano’s magma system, and then erupted. As such, we are simply organizing this list by volcanoes that had caldera creation events that were of similar or larger size than the Changbaishan VEI-7 eruption (which created a 5x5km Caldera)
Are there any large eruptions we haven’t discovered yet?
It’s very likely that there are additional un-discovered eruptions that have been very large since the end of the ice age. As mentioned before, nature is surprisingly effective at hiding large eruptions that have occurred in the past. It was only within the past few years that we discovered the source of the somewhat recent Rinjani eruption, which was one of the largest eruptions in the last 10,000 years.
This becomes even more complex when considering the fact that many eruptions occurred under glaciers, under the ocean, or in extremely remote regions of the world.
Ice Core Sulfur Dioxide To Find Mystery Eruptions
One great tool that can be used is looking at ice core data for volcanic Sulfur Dioxide (SO2). Use the following links to look up information regarding records of explosive volcanic eruptions marked by SO2 markers trapped in ice cores.
- Southern hemisphere data: Siple Dome Ice Core Data – Explosive Volcanism Record, and
- Northern hemisphere data: GISP2 Greenland Ice Core Data (Northern Hemisphere Volcanic SO2 Information)
The basic premise is that anywhere that there is a very large spike in SO2, there is a high likelihood of a volcanic eruption which was the cause. If there are no known eruption dates that possibly correlate with the SO2 spike, then we likely have a missing eruption or mis-dated eruption.
One interesting notion is that the largest spike in the Greenland Ice Core (around 9300 B.C.), which completely dwarfs many other eruption records is completely unaccounted for. There are likely many more un-discovered large eruptions in the Holocene.
Large Holocene Caldera Eruption List
All eruptions in this list are either verified to be of a VEI-7 size, or formed calderas of similar size or larger than confirmed VEI-7 eruptors.
Approximate Caldera Dimensions (km)
Estimated Eruption Date
|Rinjani / Samalas||8×5.5||1257 AD|
|Changbaishan / Baekdu||5×4||942 AD|
|Lake Ilopango||8×11||450 AD|
|Cerro Blanco||5.5×6||2200 BC|
|Macauley Island||12×12||4300 BC|
|Mount Hudson||10×10||4750 BC|
|Lake Mashu||6×5||5500 BC|
|Tao-Rusyr Caldera||7×8||5500 BC|
|Crater Lake||8×9||5680 BC|
|Kurile Lake||8×14||6440 BC|
|Fisher Caldera||11×18||7100 BC|
|Lvinaya Past||10×7||7400 BC|
|Deception Island||9×7||8670 BC|
Other Potential Large Caldera Eruptions in the Holocene
These volcanoes are more speculative as there may be some information we do not know about the eruption date, or whether an eruption did in fact create a collapse caldera.
Approximate Caldera Dimensions
Estimated Eruption Date
|Kuwae||10 x 5||1452 AD|
|Unsure if eruption created caldera, or simply erupted as a nested eruption from caldera location. Size of eruption is hotly debated.|
|Dakatua||10.5 x 13.5||640 AD|
|Not much is known about this eruption. Caldera likely existed prior, but the nested caldera still seems to be very large in size. VEI Estimates seem to believe this to be smaller, but they may not be accurate.|
|Ambrym||12 x 12||50 AD|
|Widely listed as a VEI-6 sized eruption, this seems like it could be innacurate with respect to the very large caldera created as a result of this eruption.|
|Long Island||10 x 12.5||-2040 BC|
|Erupted multiple times in enormous holocene eruptions, but true size of eruptions aren’t accurately known. Nested calderas were created, but sit below the large lake.|
|Tavui||9 x 10||-5100 BC|
|Large eruption occurred, although eruption tephra was likely limited by the fact that the caldera eruption was largely submerged fairly deep underwater. Tephra estimates likely don’t entirely match caldera size since most are submerged.|
|Karkar||5.5 x 5||-7000 BC|
|Outer caldera formed in the early Holocene, although there is chance it may have been a product of multiple eruptions instead of one larger eruption.|
|Baru||6 x 9||-7420 BC|
|Large collapse scarp occurred in the early holocene. Related eruption size not well established or known.|
|Grimsvotn||(3 individual calderas)||-8000 BC|
|Related to Saksunavartn tephras, which were likely a series of 3 separate eruptions that occurred in a short time span. Collectively equivalent to a VEI-7 eruption in all likelihood.|
|Wakamiko (Aira Caldera)||6 x 7||-8050 BC|
|Conflicting sources exist as to whether there was an eruption from Sakurajima or the Wakamiko caldera, which is a smaller nested caldera within the greater Aira caldera system.|
Do you have any other volcanoes to add to the list? Please comment and if possible, cite a source. Trying to find mystery eruptions can be a lot of fun.