Can an eruption at one volcano trigger an eruption at another nearby volcano?

There are a few historic examples of simultaneous eruptions from volcanoes or vents located within about 10 km of each other, but it's very difficult to determine whether one eruption caused the other. To the extent that these erupting volcanoes or vents have common or overlapping magma reservoirs and hydrothermal systems, magma rising to erupt from one volcano might affect the other volcano's 'plumbing' system and cause some form of unrest, including eruptions. For example, the huge explosive eruption of Novarupta vent in Alaska triggered the summit of nearby Mt. Katmai volcano to collapse, thereby forming a new caldera (but no eruption!).

For a few of the historic examples of simultaneous eruptions from nearby volcanoes, scientists actually consider the individual volcanoes or vents to be part of a larger volcano complex consisting of overlapping stratovolcanoes, cinder cones, fissures, vents, and even calderas. In such cases, the erupting vents (or volcanoes) are actually part of the same volcano complex. For example, Tavurvur and Vulcan cones are vents within Rabaul Caldera in Papua New Guinea that erupted at nearly the same time in 1994. In such cases, one eruption does not really 'trigger' a nearby vent to erupt; instead, moving magma 'leaks' to the surface at multiple sites. 

In contrast to these examples of simultaneous eruptions at volcanoes with overlapping or related magma and hydrothermal systems, two of Earth's most active volcanoes that are located close to each other--Mauna Loa and Kilauea in Hawaii--have separate shallow magma reservoirs that don't seem to affect each other. Even though Kilauea Volcano is located on the southeastern flank of Mauna Loa (the summit calderas are only 33 km apart) and magma rising into both volcanoes originates from the same mantle hot spot, the chemistry of their magma is nevertheless distinct from each other. The timing of historic eruptions at Mauna Loa and Kilauea strongly suggests that an eruption at one volcano does not cause or trigger an eruption at the other volcano.

Learn more: USGS Volcano Hazards Program

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