The lateral extent of volcanic interactions during unrest and eruption

Juliet Biggs, Elspeth Robertson, Katharine V Cashman

Research output: Contribution to journalLetter (Academic Journal)peer-review

59 Citations (Scopus)
598 Downloads (Pure)


Volcanic eruptions often occur simultaneously or tap multiple magma reservoirs. Such lateral interactions between magmatic systems are attributed to stress changes or hydraulic connections but the precise conditions under which coupled eruptions occur have yet to be quantified. Here we use interferometric synthetic aperture radar satellite data to analyse the surface deformation generated by volcanic unrest in the Kenyan Rift. We identify several magma sources located at depths of 2–5 km; importantly, sources that are spaced less than about 10 km apart interact, whereas those spaced more than about 25 km apart do not. However, volcanoes up to 25 km apart have interacted in the geologic past. Thus, volcanic coupling is not simply controlled by the distance between the magma reservoirs. We then consider different tectonic settings globally, including intraplate volcanoes such as Hawaii and Yellowstone, arc volcanism in Alaska and Chile, and other rift settings, such as New Zealand, Iceland and Afar. We find that the most closely spaced magmatic interactions are controlled by the extent of a shallow crystal mush layer, stress changes can couple large eruptions over distances of about 20–40 km, and only large dyke intrusions or subduction earthquakes could generate coupled eruptions over distances of about 50–100 km.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)308-311
Number of pages4
JournalNature Geoscience
Early online date15 Feb 2016
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2016


  • Natural hazards
  • Petrology
  • Tectonics
  • Volcanology


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