Volcanic Explosivity Index

VEI and ejecta volume correlation

The Volcanic Explosivity Index (VEI) is a relative measure of the explosiveness of volcanic eruptions. It was devised by Chris Newhall of the United States Geological Survey and Stephen Self at the University of Hawaii in 1982.

Volume of products, eruption cloud height, and qualitative observations (using terms ranging from "gentle" to "mega-colossal") are used to determine the explosivity value. The scale is open-ended with the largest volcanoes in history given magnitude 8. A value of 0 is given for non-explosive eruptions, defined as less than 10,000 m3 (350,000 cu ft) of tephra ejected; and 8 representing a mega-colossal explosive eruption that can eject 1.0×1012 m3 (240 cubic miles) of tephra and have a cloud column height of over 20 km (66,000 ft). The scale is logarithmic, with each interval on the scale representing a tenfold increase in observed ejecta criteria, with the exception of between VEI-0, VEI-1 and VEI-2.[1]

Classification

With indices running from 0 to 8, the VEI associated with an eruption is dependent on how much volcanic material is thrown out, to what height, and how long the eruption lasts. The scale is logarithmic from VEI-2 and up; an increase of 1 index indicates an eruption that is 10 times as powerful. As such there is a discontinuity in the definition of the VEI between indices 1 and 2. The lower border of the volume of ejecta jumps by a factor of one hundred, from 10,000 to 1,000,000 m3 (350,000 to 35,310,000 cu ft), while the factor is ten between all higher indices. In the following table, the frequency of each VEI indicates the approximate frequency of new eruptions of that VEI or higher.

VEI Ejecta
volume
(bulk)
Classification Description Plume Frequency Tropospheric
injection
Stratospheric
injection[2]
Examples
0 < 104 m3 Hawaiian Effusive < 100 m continuous negligible none
Hoodoo Mountain (c. 7050 BC),[3] Erebus (1963), Kīlauea (1977), Socorro Island (1993), Mawson Peak (2006), Dallol (2011), Piton de la Fournaise (2017)
> 104 m3 Hawaiian / Strombolian Gentle 100 m – 1 km daily minor none
Stromboli (since Roman times), Nyiragongo (2002), Raoul Island (2006)
2 > 106 m3 Strombolian / Vulcanian Explosive 1–5 km every two weeks moderate none
Unzen (1792), Cumbre Vieja (1949), Galeras (1993), Sinabung (2010)
3 > 107 m3 Vulcanian / Peléan/Sub-Plinian Catastrophic 3–15 km 3 months substantial possible
Lassen Peak (1915), Nevado del Ruiz (1985), Soufrière Hills (1995), Ontake (2014)
4 > 0.1 km3 Peléan / Plinian/Sub-Plinian Cataclysmic > 10 km (Plinian or sub-Plinian) 18 months substantial definite
Laki (1783), Kīlauea (1790), Mayon (1814), Pelée (1902), Colima (1913), Sakurajima (1914), Katla (1918), Galunggung (1982), Eyjafjallajökull (2010), Nabro (2011), Calbuco (2015)
5 > 1 km3 Peléan/Plinian Paroxysmic > 10 km (Plinian) 12 years substantial significant
Vesuvius (79), Fuji (1707), Tarawera (1886), Agung (1963), St. Helens (1980), El Chichón (1982), Hudson (1991), Puyehue (2011)
6 > 10 km3 Plinian / Ultra-Plinian Colossal > 20 km 50–100 yrs substantial substantial
Lake Laach Volcano (c. 10,950 BC), Nevado de Toluca (8,550 BC), Veniaminof (c. 1750 BC), Lake Ilopango (450), Ceboruco (930), Huaynaputina (1600), Krakatoa (1883), Santa Maria (1902), Novarupta (1912), Pinatubo (1991)
7 > 100 km3 Ultra-Plinian Super-colossal > 20 km 500–1,000 yrs substantial substantial
Valles Caldera (1,264,000 BC), Phlegraean Fields (37,000 BC), Aira Caldera (22,000 BC), Mount Mazama (c. 5,700 BC), Kikai Caldera (4,300 BC), Cerro Blanco (c. 2300 BC), Thera (c. 1620 BC), Taupo (180), Baekdu (946), Samalas (1257), Tambora (1815)
8 > 1000 km3 Ultra-Plinian Mega-colossal > 20 km > 50,000 yrs[4][5] vast vast
La Garita (26,300,000 BC), Cerro Galán (2,200,000 BC), Huckleberry Ridge Tuff (2,100,000 BC), Yellowstone (630,000 BC), Whakamaru (in TVZ) (254,000 BC),[6] Toba (74,000 BC), Taupo (25,360 BC)

About 40 eruptions of VEI-8 magnitude within the last 132 million years (Mya) have been identified, of which 30 occurred in the past 36 million years. Considering the estimated frequency is on the order of once in 50,000 years,[4] there are likely many such eruptions in the last 132 Mya that are not yet known. Based on incomplete statistics, other authors assume that at least 60 VEI-8 eruptions have been identified.[7][8] The most recent is Lake Taupo's Oruanui eruption, more than 27,000 years ago, which means that there have not been any Holocene eruptions with a VEI of 8.[9]

There have been at least 10 eruptions of VEI-7 in the last 10,000 years. There are also 58 plinian eruptions, and 13 caldera-forming eruptions, of large, but unknown magnitudes. By 2010, the Global Volcanism Program of the Smithsonian Institution had catalogued the assignment of a VEI for 7,742 volcanic eruptions that occurred during the Holocene (the last 11,700 years) which account for about 75% of the total known eruptions during the Holocene. Of these 7,742 eruptions, about 49% have a VEI of ≤ 2, and 90% have a VEI ≤ 3.[10]