Evaluating The Effect Of Large Magnitude Earthquakes On Thermal Volcanic Activity: A Comparative Assessment Of The Parameters And Mechanisms That Trigger Volcanic Unrest And Eruptions

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Volcanic eruptions and unrest have the potential to have large impacts on society causing social, economic and environmental losses. One of the primary goals of volcanological studies is to understand a volcano’s behaviour so that future instances of unrest or impending eruptions can be predicted. Despite this, our ability to predict the onset, location and size of future periods of unrest remains inadequate and one of the main problems in forecasting is associated with the inherent complexity of volcanoes. In practice, most reliable forecasts have employed a probabilistic approach where knowledge of volcanic activity triggers have been incorporated into scenarios to indicate the probability of unrest. The proposed relationship between large earthquakes and volcanic activity may, therefore, indicate an important precursory signal for volcanic activity forecasting.

There have been numerous reports of a spatial and temporal link between volcanic activity and high magnitude seismic events and it has been suggested that significantly more periods of volcanic unrest occur in the months and years following an earthquake than expected by chance. Disparities between earthquake-volcano assessments and variability between responding volcanoes, however, has meant that the conditions that influence a volcano’s response to earthquakes have not been determined. Using data from the MODVOLC algorithm, a proxy for volcanic activity, this research examined a globally comparable database of satellite-derived volcanic radiant flux to identify significant changes in volcanic activity following an earthquake. Cases of potentially triggered volcanic activity were then analysed to identify the earthquake and volcano parameters that influence the relationship and evaluate the mechansisms proposed to trigger volcanic activity following an earthquake.

At a global scale, this research identified that 57% [8 out of 14] of all large magnitude earthquakes were followed by increases in global volcanic activity. The most significant change in volcanic radiant flux, which demonstrates the potential of large earthquakes to influence volcanic activity at a global scale, occurred between December 2004 and April 2005. During this time, new thermal activity was detected at 10 volcanoes and the total daily volcanic radiant flux doubled within 52 days. Within a regional setting, this research also identified that instances of potentially triggered volcanic activity were statistically different to instances where no triggering was observed. In addition, assessments of earthquake and volcano parameters identified that earthquake fault characteristics increase the probability of triggered volcanic activity and variable response proportions at individual volcanoes and regionally demonstrated the critical role of the state of the volcanic system in determining if a volcano will respond. Despite the identification of these factors, this research was not able to define a model for the prediction of volcanic activity following earthquakes and, alternatively, proposed a process for response. In doing so, this thesis confirmed the potential use of earthquakes as a precursory indicator to volcanic activity and identified the most likely mechanisms that lead to seismically triggered volcanic unrest.
Date of Award2015
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Coventry University
SupervisorMatthew Blackett (Supervisor) & Nigel Trodd (Supervisor)

Cite this