Can earthquakes trigger volcanic eruptions?

Sometimes, yes. A few historic large regional earthquakes (greater than magnitude 6) are considered by scientists to be related to a subsequent eruption or to some type of unrest at a nearby volcano. The exact triggering mechanism for these historic examples is not well understood, but the volcanic activity probably occurs in response to a change in the local pressure surrounding the magma reservoir system as a consequence of (1) severe ground shaking caused by the earthquake; or (2) a change in the "strain" or pressure in the Earth's crust in the region surrounding where the earthquake occurred.

For example, on November 29, 1975, a large magnitude-7.2 earthquake struck the Big Island of Hawaii at 4:48 a.m. It was centered about 28 kilometers southeast of Kilauea Volcano's summit caldera at a depth of 5 kilometers; the earthquake occurred within the volcano's south flank. The earthquake was preceded by numerous foreshocks, the largest of which was a 5.7 magnitude jolt at 3:36 a.m. the same morning, and was accompanied, or closely followed, by a tsunami, massive ground movements, hundreds of aftershocks, and a short-lived eruption in Kilauea's summit caldera.

The eruption began at 5:32 a.m. from a 500-meter long fissure on the caldera floor and ended by 10:00 p.m. According to scientists at the USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, the eruptive activity "was apparently triggered by the 7.2 magnitude earthquake." The small volume and brief duration of the eruption suggest that the shallow magma might not have reached the surface under its own buoyant energy without a triggering mechanism apparently provided by the violent ground shaking.

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Looking down a lava channel at the sunrise
June 25, 2018

Early morning view of the open lava channel during helicopter overflight of the lower East Rift Zone.

Lava fountaining with lava channel flowing away
June 22, 2018

Lava continues to erupt at a high rate from Fissure 8 and flow within the established channel to the ocean. No channel overflows were observed during this morning's overflight. The fountains have built a horseshoe-shaped cone as lava fragments are intermittently hurled onto and over the growing rim. Lava exiting the cone forms a series of standing waves in the uppermost section of the channel.

June 13, 2018

A UAS mission on June 13, 2018, filmed details of the dramatic changes occurring within Halema‘uma‘u crater at Kīlauea's summit since explosive eruptions of ash and gas and ongoing wall collapse began in mid-May. The video shows steep crater walls that continue to slump inward and downward in response to the ongoing subsidence of the summit area. This video was taken from a UAS (Unmanned Aircraft Systems). Limited UAS flights into this hazardous area are conducted with permission and in coordination with Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park. The video is used to assess hazards at the summit and the information is shared with the National Park Service and emergency managers.

Image shows a satellite image of the Big Island of Hawaii
August 3, 2016

Landsat Mosaic of Kilauea and Mauna Loa Volcanoes on Hawaii.

Chaitén Volcano in Chile
July 29, 2016

On May 2, 2008, Chaitén volcano in Chile erupted with an ash column that rose to about 17 km and lasted for 6 hours. Photograph Credit: Jeff Marso, USGS

January 20, 2014

21 January 2014 Lava Lake Spattering at Halema'uma'u Crater The lava lake in the Overlook crater, within Halema'uma'u Crater at Kilauea's summit, undergoes frequent periods of spattering. The spattering is normally at the lake margins, and the surface crust often flows towards, and is consumed at, the spattering source. Large bubbles bursting at the surface drive the spattering activity, as shown occasionally by large spherical bursts.

A gas plume arising from Augustine Volcano during it's eruptive phase 2005-06.
January 24, 2006

A gas plume arising from Augustine Volcano during it's eruptive phase 2005-06. This photo was taken during  a FLIR/maintenance flight on January 24, 2006.