Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Frequency and magnitude of volcanic eruptions controlled by magma injection and buoyancy



Super-eruptions are extremely rare events. Indeed, the global frequency of explosive volcanic eruptions is inversely proportional to the volume of magma released in a single event1,2. The rate of magma supply, mechanical properties of the crust and magma, and tectonic regime are known to play a role in controlling eruption frequency and magnitude3,4,5,6,7, but their relative contributions have not been quantified. Here we use a thermomechanical numerical model of magma injection into Earth’s crust and Monte Carlo simulations to explore the factors controlling the recurrence rates of eruptions of different magnitudes. We find that the rate of magma supply to the upper crust controls the volume of a single eruption. The time interval between magma injections into the subvolcanic reservoir, at a constant magma-supply rate, determines the duration of the magmatic activity that precedes eruptions. Our simulations reproduce the observed relationship between eruption volume and magma chamber residence times and replicate the observed correlation between erupted volumes and caldera dimensions8,9. We also find that magma buoyancy is key to triggering super-eruptions, whereas pressurization associated with magma injection is responsible for relatively small and frequent eruptions. Our findings help improve our ability to decipher the long-term activity patterns of volcanic systems.

Your institute does not have access to this article

Relevant articles

Open Access articles citing this article.

Access options

Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.

Figure 1: Possible scenarios of magma injection and associated overpressure.
Figure 2: Results of Monte Carlo simulations and comparison with natural volcanic eruptions.
Figure 3: Comparison between modelled and observed frequency and magnitude of eruptions.


  1. Mason, B. G., Pyle, D. M. & Oppenheimer, C. The size and frequency of the largest explosive eruptions on Earth. Bull. Volcanol. 66, 735–748 (2004).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Deligne, N. I., Coles, S. G. & Sparks, R. S. J. Recurrence rates of large explosive volcanic eruptions. J. Geophys. Res. 115, B06203 (2010).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Jellinek, A. M. & DePaolo, D. J. A model for the origin of large silicic magma chambers: Precursors of caldera-forming eruptions. Bull. Volcanol. 65, 363–381 (2003).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. De Silva, S. L. & Gosnold, W. D. Episodic construction of batholiths: Insights from the spatiotemporal development of an ignimbrite flare-up. J. Volcanol. Geotherm. Res. 167, 320–335 (2007).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Annen, C. From plutons to magma chambers: Thermal constraints on the accumulation of eruptible silicic magma in the upper crust. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 284, 409–416 (2009).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Gregg, P. M., de Silva, S. L., Grosfils, E. B. & Parmigiani, J. P. Catastrophic caldera-forming eruptions: Thermomechanics and implications for eruption triggering and maximum caldera dimensions on Earth. J. Volcanol. Geotherm. Res. 241–242, 1–12 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Karlstrom, L., Rudolph, M. L. & Manga, M. Caldera size modulated by the yield stress within a crystal-rich magma reservoir. Nature Geosci. 5, 402–405 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Costa, F. Developments in Volcanology Vol. 10, 1–55 (Elsevier, 2008).

    Google Scholar 

  9. Martı´, J., Geyer, A. & Folch, A. Development in Volcanology Vol. 10, 233–283 (Elsevier, 2008).

    Google Scholar 

  10. Blundy, J. & Cashman, K. Ascent-driven crystallisation of dacite magmas at Mount St Helens, 1980–1986. Contrib. Mineral Petrol. 140, 631–650 (2001).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Marsh, B. D. On the crystallinity, probability of occurrence, and rheology of lava and magma. Contrib. Mineral Petrol. 78, 85–98 (1981).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Caricchi, L. et al. Non-Newtonian rheology of crystal-bearing magmas and implications for magma ascent dynamics. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 264, 402–419 (2007).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Glazner, A. F., Bartley, J. M., Coleman, D. S., Gray, W. & Taylor, R. Z. Are plutons assembled over millions of years by amalgamation from small magma chambers? Gsa Today 14, 4–11 (2004).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. De Saint-Blanquat, et al. Multiscale magmatic cyclicity, duration of pluton construction, and the paradoxical relationship between tectonism and plutonism in continental arcs. Tectonophysics 500, 20–33 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Michaut, C. & Jaupart, C. Ultra-rapid formation of large volumes of evolved magma. Earth Planet. Sc. Lett. 250, 38–52 (2006).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Karlstrom, L., Dufek, J. & Manga, M. Magma chamber stability in arc and continental crust. J. Volcanol. Geotherm. Res. 190, 249–270 (2010).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Gudmundsson, A. Magma chambers: Formation, local stresses, excess pressures, and compartments. J. Volcanol. Geotherm. Res. 237–238, 19–41 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Menand, T. Physical controls and depth of emplacement of igneous bodies: A review. Tectonophysics 500, 11–19 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Ruff, L. J. Dynamic stress drop of recent earthquakes: Variations within subduction zones. Pure Appl. Geophys. 154, 409–431 (1999).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Geyer, A., Folch, A. & Martı´, J. Relationship between caldera collapse and magma chamber withdrawal: An experimental approach. J. Volcanol. Geotherm. Res. 157, 375–386 (2006).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Bacon, C. R. & Lanphere, M. A. Eruptive history and geochronology of Mount Mazama and the Crater Lake region, Oregon. Geol. Soc. Am. Bull. 118, 1331–1359 (2006).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Klemetti, E. W., Deering, C. D., Cooper, K. M. & Roeske, S. M. Magmatic perturbations in the Okataina Volcanic Complex, New Zealand at thousand-year timescales recorded in single zircon crystals. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 305, 185–194 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Stelten, M. E. & Cooper, K. M. Constraints on the nature of the subvolcanic reservoir at South Sister volcano, Oregon from U-series dating combined with sub-crystal trace-element analysis of plagioclase and zircon. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 313–314, 1–11 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Self, S., Gertisser, R., Thordarson, T., Rampino, M. R. & Wolff, J. A. Magma volume, volatile emissions, and stratospheric aerosols from the 1815 eruption of Tambora. Geophys. Res. Lett. 31, L20608 (2004).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Newhall, C. G. & Punongbayan, S. A. Fire and Mud: Eruptions and lahars of Mount Pinatubo, Philippines (Univ. Washington Press, 1996).

    Google Scholar 

  26. Hawkesworth, C., George, R., Turner, S. & Zellmer, G. Time scales of magmatic processes. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 218, 1–16 (2004).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Piwinski, A. J. & Wyllie, P. J. Experimental studies of igneous rock series. Felsic body suite from needle point pluton, Wallowa-Batholith, Oregon. J. Geol. 78, 52–76 (1970).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Tait, S., Jaupart, C. & Vergniolle, S. Pressure, gas content and eruption periodicity of a shallow, crystallising magma chamber. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 92, 107–123 (1989).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Pitzer, K. S. & Sterner, S. M. Equations of state valid continuously from zero to extreme pressures for H2O and CO2 . J. Chem. Phys. 101, 3111–3116 (1994).

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references


This work was financially supported by a NERC fellowship (NE/G012946/1) to L.C. and an ERC Advanced Grant CRITMAG and Royal Society Wolfson Research Merit Award to J.B. C.A. was financially supported through ERC Advanced Grant VOLDIES to S. Sparks, who we also thank for comments on an earlier version of the manuscript. The review of M. Jellinek significantly improved the manuscript.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations



All authors contributed to the study. L.C. carried out the mechanical modelling, the Monte Carlo simulations, wrote the first draft of the manuscript and prepared the figures.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Luca Caricchi.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Information (PDF 1212 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Caricchi, L., Annen, C., Blundy, J. et al. Frequency and magnitude of volcanic eruptions controlled by magma injection and buoyancy. Nature Geosci 7, 126–130 (2014).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

Further reading


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing