The Kerguelen Hypervolcano™

Below the Clouds Stair-case by Swedish architects at Stockholm-based TAF Architect Office.

OK, so what in Gódabunga’s name do Swedish stairs and volcanoes have in common! Apart from the fact they can do you a real mischief if you fall down, a staircase in Swedish is trappa and this gives the name to the extensive flood basalt flows of the Traps volcanic provinces from the stair-like appearance of the flows!


A little known, but very extensive trap province exists in the southern Indian Ocean, some 4000km west of Australia and 1500km north of Antarctica – the Kerguelen Plateau that has developed over the Kerguelen mantle plume.

The Kerguelen Plateau – the second largest submarine plateau –  lies at approximately 1-2000 metres depth, in an abyssal depth of 3-4000 metres, and has three small island groups, Kerguelen, Heard Island and Mcdonald Island as surface expressions. The plateau extends north-westwards for c2200km covering an area of about 2.2m sq km.

Geologically, the plateau has had a colourful history, being classed as a ‘micro-continent’, it is a remnant of the break-up of the Gondwanaland super-continent and is located over the Kerguelen hot-spot. Deep water geological information is from the JOIDES ODP (ocean drilling programme) and seismic interpretation of oil prospecting data; the plateau is shown to be constructed on a general base of Cretaceous terrestrial and/or shallow water sediments – including coal horizons for at about 40m years. Volcanism began during the middle/late Cretaceous (c120m years ago) with emplacement of trachytes and basalts and continued on a large scale into the Miocene/Oligocene and continues up to the present on Mcdonald Island. Recovered ODP samples of felsic and metamorphic rock indicate the possible presence of a crystalline basement at least in part below the Cretaceous deposits. The total volume of the Kerguelen volcanic province is estimated to be in the order of 25million cu km giving an average of 0.2cu km/year. Submergence of the whole plateau was around 20m years ago.

The references below are superb!

Kerguelen plateau, from Wikipedia: Kerguelen plateau topography.

The island groups involved here, are the tiny yellow dots near the north-west end on the elongate NW-SE pale blue area, Antarctica is the orange-red area at the bottom.

Kerguelen Island is the largest of the island groups surfacing above the Kerguelen Plateau; administered under the French Southern and Antarctic Terretories; covers an area of about 3400sq km and rises to 1850m at Mt Ross, the youngest volcanic expression of Plio/Pleistocene lavas – brown on the map below.

Simplified geological map of the Kerguelen Islands from Wikipedia.

The majority of the island is composed of flood basalts, in grey above, along with minor amounts of trachyte, pinkish, and the plutonic complexes (buff-grey) of Foch -north centre – and Rallier du Baty – sw bottom and the small Mt Crozier intrusion – northern of the two eastern promontories. Volcanism, related to the Kerguelen hotspot, began c40m years ago and continued until about 100,000 BP.

Heard & McDonald Islands

Heard Island and the stratovolcano Big Ben
(photo by A. J. Graff, Australian Antarctic Division)

The Heard and McDonald Islands (colloquially the HIMI) are administered by Australia and as such are home to Australia’s only active volcanoes.

Heard Island, apart from having the highest point on Australian territory at 2745m on Big Ben (9006 ft), has two main volcanoes in Big Ben, in part a 5-6km diameter, glacier covered caldera and the smaller Mt Dixon, plus small scoria cones. Big Ben, approximately 18km in diameter, is mainly of basalt/trachytic composition.

Heard Island shows 3 distinct stages of development, the oldest being the deposition of Miocene limestones 40-50my ago being found over much of the Kerguelen Plateau. These carbonates were followed around 9my ago, by 300-350m of volcaniclastic sediments and pillow lavas of the Drygalski Formation. A period of peneplanation of the Drygalski deposits preceeded the present volcanism, starting about 1my ago.

Satellite image from July 2000, showing an active two kilometre long (and 50-90 metre wide) lava flow trending south-west from the summit of Big Ben.
Photo: Thermal Alert Team, University of Hawai’i

The McDonald Island group lies about 27 miles west of Heard Island and is home to the second of Australia’s most recently active volcanoes and the whole total about 1sq mile in area, rising to 212m at Maxwell Hill. McDonald Island burst into action in 1992 after a 75,000year sleep and has been sporadically active since in late 1995-early1996, 2000-2001 and lastly in 2005 from Samarang Hill. The effect these eruptions had on the island was to almost double the size and increase the height by about100m!

The island is composed mainly of interbedded ,viscous phonolitic tuffs and lavas; phonolite being named after the resounding ‘ring’ when struck, is tough, pale coloured with a high felsic content of predominant feldspathoids over feldspar and is characteristic where a mantle plume is overlain by a thick continental crust.

2004 satellite image of McDonald Island showing island’s extent in 1980 (striped).



295 thoughts on “The Kerguelen Hypervolcano™

  1. Today’s Day One of the post-Easter Askja expedition. Wonder what they will find and when they announce it…

  2. Good morning all.
    I found this little snippet on the UK met office page. Effects of air pollution has an effect on the temperature of Oceans. It also states Volcanic activity to a smaller extent has the same effect.
    It adds this is just the results of one model and more research is needed.
    Firstly this really comes as no surprise to me. I suppose that this model is more accurate and “proves” what has been suspected for years. Industrial pollution causes changes to the immediate and global atmosphere, but it has highlighted the major effects of ocean temperature on more “local” weather.
    Volcanoes cause a “smaller” effect? I wonder about this. I would like to see more. Which volcanoes were included into the monitoring?
    I am wary of accepting without question the results of computer models. Maybe this is my age but think not.
    I really want to see what data has been used. Over what period of time has this data been collected? What volcanic eruptions were included or was it just the measurement of assorted volcanic particles from the atmosphere globally?
    It looks like today’s computer sessions for me will be for hunting out answers to yet more questions.
    The more I learn the less I seem to know.

    • There was a paper published recently that revealed that volcanoes had a smaller impact on weather patterns than previously believed. That study included the eruption during the last century. I guess they have done the new computer model visavi that papers findings.

      That industrial pollution affects weather over time was not the big brainer here…

      • I have a rough time accepting research based off of mostly models with a sprinking of actual data here and there that has been tweaked many years later in order to make it fit a preconcieved notion of what it should look like.

        If the model doesn’t match the data, you fix the @#$ @$amned model, you don’t change the data to fit.

        Not that thise (these) researchers have done that, but the entire field of climate / weather modeling is suspect because of the reprehensible (and in my opinion, criminal) activity of many of their cohorts in climate science.

        • Many?
          I thought it was five idiots acting like normal people fubbing with data to promote their careers. Actually I find odd that there has not been more found out with their hands in the gravy jar really.
          My personal thought on one of them is that he liked hockey a wee bit to much and just had to have a hockey-stick. The rest of them are morons to, but for other reasons.

          There are a lot of errors of course hopping up as soon as one uses things that come out of paleo-, dendro, icecore-, new age-, and other non exact sciences. In reallity bringing in that crap was just done because they wanted research grants.
          In reality all needed was an experiment determining the energy binding proportionality of CO2, compare that with CO2 data the last 60 years, and then overlay that with temperature gradients for the same 60 years. What then popped out? Well that one followed reality, did not have any statistical anomalities, and gives a trend line based on solid physics. In all the climate gateing furror people lost that one.
          And that one actually follows the IPCC report.
          So, yes, there will probably be a 1 to 2 degree warming during the next 90 years, unless of course some natural process hampers it. Solar cycles of various kind could easilly halt the progression for instance. But, what people forget is that even if the full warming hits, it wont affect a lot. A few areas will get wetter, some dryer, some colder, some warmer (mostly around the poles). Or in other words, a bit more unstable really. Will it bump of civilisation? Nope, not at all. Will it kill someone? Oddly enough, nope. On average it will probably benefit us with larger harvests.

          • It’s one thing to calibrate and recalibrate ancient data / proxy data and provide your methods so that they can be checked by other independant researchers.

            An example….

            Did you know that Reykjavik is experianceing a cold spell?

            The temperatures there are falling. In fact, they have fallen almost 1.5°C over the last year.

            IN 1940

            That’s right… 1940.

            NASA GISS has been quietly going back in the record and making “adjustements” to the historically recorded temperatures, adjusting older temps cooler.

            Ostensibly, this is to correct for “station factors” and “siteing issues”… but the people who are actually responsible for those stations… (Iceland Met Office) say that “The GHCN “corrections” are grossly in error in the case of Reykjavik”.

            But… the “corrections” continue, and data sets like GISS and HadCrut become less and less reliable. The horked up bit is that datasets like GISS and HadCrut are used to justify the expenditure of copious amounts of taxpayer money on things like Solyndra and other … “oddities”

            Blythe California was to be the site of one of the largest photovoltaic plants…. the company behind that appeared to being going bankrupt.

            The property seized in the Mojave deserts for solar companies…. well, it was seized and those companies are either in Chapter 11, Chapter 7, or trying to decide which to use.

            And the data sets that support the logic and justification of these policies? Well, NASA GISS and HadCrut are a couple of the major ones. How can you make confident assumptions about what the data says when they keep dicking with it?

            Answer: You can’t.

          • This paper suggests that in fact the North Atlantic is actually being cooled. One thing I wondered about is how many large submarine eruptions happen in the Atlantic and do they affect, to any great degree, the ocean temperatures and or currents. I can’t remember seeing any temperature comparisons during Bob’s episode. I will not call it an eruption as such. How big an area would black smokers affect? I could imagine that the heating is actually minimal… but this is another area I shall read up about.

            As to our apparent “disinterest” in the Northern Pacific Volcanoes in Alaska and across the Bering Straits to Eastern Russia, I watch and read. They are truly beautiful and majestic.
            This is a super page for viewing the many webcams. Towards the bottom of the page are archived pictures of Augustine’s eruption 2006. Also some real time views of Alaska near Anchorage.
            I visit often.

  3. Mental note…
    Remember to check what I am logged in as before starting… So need coffee today 🙂

  4. Volcano Activity in USA on Thursday, 05 April, 2012 at 15:55 (03:55 PM) UTC.


    Updated: Tuesday, 10 April, 2012 at 02:46 UTC
    Cleveland Volcano is continuing to erupt. The restless volcano on uninhabited Chuginadak Island exploded twice on Friday, sending up small ash clouds. A larger eruption on Wednesday destroyed a lava dome that been growing in the summit crater. Cleveland has been experiencing a pattern of lava dome growth and destruction since last July. Scientists at the Alaska Volcano Observatory said in a release that there’s no sign of new lava dome growth since Friday’s explosions. The Observatory warns that unrest will likely continue at the volcano, with the possibility of sudden explosions accompanied by ash clouds exceeding 20,000 feet.

  5. Volcano Eruption in Ecuador on Monday, 05 March, 2012 at 03:33 (03:33 AM) UTC.


    Updated: Tuesday, 10 April, 2012 at 02:36 UTC
    A new increase in the seismic activity of Tungurahua Volcano, in Ecuador, began early Monday with a constant sign of high energy tremor linked with ash emissions. According to the report of the Geophysics Institute of the National Polytechnic School, the increase of the seismic activity in this crater started with a column of smoke that reached 3 kilometers high along with low intensity roaring and sounds. The first explosions caused minor thunders or crashes due to the rolling of blocks through the side walls of the volcano. Shortly after, the falling of black and fine ashes on populations in the south-southwest regions, such as Palitahua, Capil, and Toctes, was reported. According to the last report, the area surrounding the volcano remains highly cloudy, and with seismic activity.

  6. AVO webicorders

    Signs of activity at Shishaldin (tremor), Iliamna (pop-corn earthquakes) and Redoubt (harmonics in the form of tornillos, see 0409 at ~09.50) plus instrument malfunctions at Iliamna, Okmok and Pavlov. Please note that AVO seem to be doing frequent equipment checks which show up as large, anomalous blobs in most webicorders.

    • Eventfull little corner of the planet. If it had not been a popular route for flyovers it would probably not be covered even closely as well. There are many nice volcanoes there to dig in to.
      I know that all this activity is pretty much a normal day in the park for that particular part of the world. Wonder how it would look if it went into high gear one day.

      • Yes. True. Definitely. Very much so, even the dome-building/destruction at Cleveland is more or less on par for the area. Indeed.

        • It is actually a bit telling, a lot of volcanic activity going on permanently in a remote area of the planet get very little attention. The possibility of a drawn out VEI-2 at Santorini get a lot of attention.
          I find it psychologicaly fascinating that even we who are bonafidé volcanoholics do not get a kick out of them… Poor volcanoes 🙂

          That about that, dome extrusions are awesome!

  7. Pingback: Kerguelen, Amsterdam/St Paul, and Iceland | VolcanoCafé

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