We Haven't Discovered "Alaska's Yellowstone"

5 min read
fairly difficult
New research suggests that a group of volcanoes in Alaska might be all related to a single large caldera, but this doesn't mean we have a new Yellowstone.
It is always exciting when we discover something unexpected. Our understanding of volcanoes is still really in its youth, so we're still generating new insights into how volcanoes operate and how much interaction there might be between neighboring volcanoes. Just this month, researchers looking at a cluster of volcanoes in Alaska now think that they might be part of larger volcanic complex ... and that complex might harbor a large caldera that could have been the source of some giant eruptions.

However, as cool as this research is (and it is!), many articles covering this seem to have jumped directly to the conclusion that it is some sort of new Yellowstone. The media is always drawn to the massive caldera system in Wyoming and loves to compare volcanic eruptions with what happened there over the past 2 million years. This does an injustice to both Yellowstone and whatever other volcanoes are being examined.

Volcanic Clusters Everywhere

Let's start with some basic volcanology: there are many examples of large volcanic clusters around the world. Some are large caldera systems like Yellowstone, Toba or Taupo. They have the main caldera (depression) formed during a major explosive eruption and maybe some other volcanoes grow on the edges/in the middle of the caldera. They might all share similar sources of magma in the crust or they might merely be coincidental. We can examine the composition of the magma that erupts, the seismicity under the area, the volcanic gases emitted between eruptions and more to potentially link them together.

Sometimes volcanic clusters don't have massive calderas. I've worked on a couple of these. The Aucanquilcha Volcanic Cluster in Chile has a dozen (or more) volcanoes that have erupted over the past 11 million years and appear to have shared a long evolving magmatic…
Erik Klemetti
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