The lateral extent of volcanic interactions during unrest and eruption

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Volcanic eruptions often occur simultaneously1,2,3,4 or tap multiple magma reservoirs5,6. Such lateral interactions between magmatic systems are attributed to stress changes7,8 or hydraulic connections4,8,9,10 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 past1,11. 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.

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Figure 1: Volcano deformation in the Kenyan Rift.
Figure 2: Relationship between volume and distances for coupled eruptions and unrest globally.


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Radar images were provided by the European Space Agency under a Living Planet Fellowship to J.B., including ALOS images provided through a third-party mission agreement. Interferograms were processed using ROI_PAC software from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Geodmod software from the University of Miami. E.R. was supported by a NERC Studentship and J.B. was supported by NERC funding through COMET, RiftVolc (NE/L013932/1) and a New Investigators Grant (NE/I001816/1). K.C. acknowledges support from the AXA Research Fund. We thank A. Rust, M. Kendall and J. Blundy for helpful discussions.

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J.B. conceived the project, with help from E.R., and ordered the data. E.R. analysed the data with help from J.B. J.B. wrote the manuscript with help from E.R. and K.C.

Correspondence to Juliet Biggs.

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Biggs, J., Robertson, E. & Cashman, K. The lateral extent of volcanic interactions during unrest and eruption. Nature Geosci 9, 308–311 (2016) doi:10.1038/ngeo2658

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