Volcanogenic Tsunamis

(By J. Keeley, 2010)

                                    Noteworthy Volcanic Tsunamis:

Tonga tsunami

                                   Photo Courtesy: AFP                                                              Photo Courtesy:  IUGG

Date of Tsunami

Volcano Location

Tsunami Cause and Impact

1638 BC

Santorini, Greece

Ø  Destruction of the population of Crete

79 AD

Vesuvius, Italy

Ø  Caldera collapse

Ø  Unknown devastation


Vesuvius, Italy

Ø  Worst Vesuvius tsunami

Ø  Result of subplinian eruption

Ø  Many boats destroyed


Komagatake, Japan 

Ø  Summit collapse from landslide

Ø  700 people killed


Taal, Philippines

Ø  Base surge-induced tsunami


Oshima-Oshima, Japan

Ø  Volcanic earthquake

Ø  1,467 people killed


Taal, Philippines

Ø  Base sure-induced tsunami


Unzen, Japan

Ø  Landslide from nearby Mt Mayuyama

Ø  55m tsunami waves

Ø  Around 15,000 people killed


Tambora, Indonesia

Ø  Pyroclastic flows entering sea

Ø  Waves over 10m

Ø  Over 10,000 people dead


Ruang, Indonesia

Ø  Pyroclastic flow

Ø  26m waves


Yasur, Vanuata

Ø  Volcanic earthquake

Ø  16m waves


Okmok, Alaska, USA

Ø  Volcanic earthquake-induced


Augustine, Alaska, USA

Ø  Volcanic landslide

Ø  9m waves


Krakatau, Indonesia

Ø  40m waves

Ø  36,000 people dead


Ritter, Papua new Guinea

Ø  Volcano collapse and avalanche

Ø  15m waves

Ø  Hundreds killed on shoreline


Pelee, Carribean

Ø  Pyroclastic flow-induced


Ambrym, Vanuatu

Ø  Underwater eruption


Paluweh, Indonesia

Ø  Volcanic landslide

Ø  10m waves

Ø  150 people killed


Stromboli, Italy

Ø  Volcanic earthquake and landslide

Ø  2m waves


Severgin, Kurile Islands

Ø  Volcanic earthquake

Ø  10m tsunami waves


Bezymianny, Russia

Ø  Shockwave-induced tsunami


Didicas, Philippines

Ø  3 people killed

1972, 1974

Ritter, Papua New Guinea

Ø  Small tsunamis from subsidence of volcano


Illiwerung, Indonesia

Ø  Volcanic landslide

Ø  9m waves

Ø  Over 500 people dead


St Helens, Washington, USA

Ø  Volcanic landslide

Ø  250m waves in Spirit Lake


Illiwerung, Indonesia

Ø  Submarine eruption

Ø  Few deaths


Nyos, Cameroon

Ø  Underwater CO2 eruption

Ø  75m tsunami waves


Vulcano, Italy

Ø  Volcanic landslide

Ø  5.5m waves


Rabaul, Papua New Guinea

Ø  Pyroclastic flow-induced

Ø  1.2m waves


Karymsky, Russia

Ø  Phreatomagmatic eruption

Ø  30m waves


Soufriere Hills, Montserrat

Ø  Volcanic debris slide

Ø  3m waves


Stromboli, Italy

Ø  Landslide-induced tsunami


Ritter, Papua New Guinea

Ø  Eruption-induced landslide

Ø  Many homes destroyed


Vesuvius from plane

 Photo Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons


                        Since 79 AD, Vesuvius has produced one of the best-documented series of volcanic tsunamis in recorded history. Volcanic activity of Vesuvius (located in Italy) has propagated more than 10 separate tsunamis events! While the eruption event of 79 AD, which killed thousands and destroyed the cities of Pompei and Herculaneum among others, is the most well-known this was not the worst tsunami-inducing event of Vesuvius. The worst of these documented tsunamis followed the eruption of December, 1631, in which waves crashed ashore three times damaging and destroying many boats along the coastline. While this tsunami may have been triggered by pyroclastic flows entering the sea Vesuvius’ proximity from the water makes volcanic earthquakes a more likely cause.


Vesuvius on NASA map

Photo Courtesy: NASA




Photo Courtesy:  Jani Patokallio

                   The third most devastating volcanogenic tsunami to strike Japan occurred in 1640 following the eruption of Mt Komagatake on the island of Hokkaido, Japan. During the early stages of volcanic eruption the summit of Komagatake collapsed causing a large debris avalanche. This avalanche plummeted into the sea creating a tsunami which left behind deposits 8.5m above sea level at locations 40 km from the mountain, killing over 700 people.

komagatake japan map




Photo Courtesy:  Wikimedia Commons

                        The Oshima-Oshima event near the island of Hokkaido is Japan’s second most destructive volcanic tsunami. Deposits from the Oshima-Oshima tsunami have been found over 5m high in places on the Oshima Peninsula over 50 km from the eruptive site. Records show that 1,467 people lost their lives as a result of the event, which was likely caused by volcanic earthquakes accompanying the 1741 eruption.

hokkaido volcanoes

(1) Oshima-Oshima off the shore of Hokkaido. Map based on Simkin and Seibert (1994).



unzen NASA photo

Photo Courtesy:  NASA


            Unzen is the site of Japan’s most destructive volcanic disaster on record. Following a period of eruptive activity at the volcano in 1792, a landslide was triggered on nearby Mt Mayuyama. This landslide poured into the ocean, generating a massive tsunami over 55m high that wreaked havoc in the nearby area. The landslide and ensuing tsunami caused a vast amount of damage to the coastline and left more than 15,000 dead.



unzen on map of japan



tambora - nasa

Photo Courtesy:  NASA

                        The largest known volcanic eruption of the last 200 years, that of Tambora on Sumbawa Island, Indonesia, occurred in 1815. Enormous volumes of pyroclastic flow followed by caldera collapse created an up to 10m wall of water that devastated the Indonesian shoreline. While the eruption (and aftermath) of Tambora has been credited with the loss of more than 71,000 lives, as many as 10,000 of those are attributed to the resulting tsunami.

indo volcanoes

Image Courtesy:  Ole Nielsen



ritter island

Photo Courtesy:  www.deyave.com

                        In 1888, a catastrophic eruption destroyed most of Ritter Island, off the coast of Papua New Guinea (the largest ever historical island volcano collapse). As the volcano collapsed it produced a 13m high tsunami, killing hundreds on the shorelines of nearby Umboi, New Britain, and New Guinea.  Volcanic activity at Ritter has caused several other small tsunamis before and since 1888, though none nearly as devastating. In 2007 nearby inhabitants were again threatened as much of what was left of the volcanic island slid into the sea.


ritter on map

Image From:  Ball and Johnson (1976)

Mt St Helens

            St Helens

  st helens


                        While the 1980 eruption of Mt St Helens (USA) is one of the most well-known and thoroughly-studied volcanic events of our time it does not come close to accounting for the greatest loss of life. However, were there a large population surrounding the once-pristine waters of Spirit Lake in May of 1980, it would be a different story. When St Helens erupted the massive avalanche of debris that slid from the mountain crashed into the lake at its base with such force that a wave of water 250m high was sent smashing to shore. That’s over 6 times the height of the devastating tsunami unleashed by the Krakatoa eruption in 1883!


spirit lake - nasa

Photo Courtesy:  NASA


st helens on map

Image Courtesy:  Pennsylvania State University

Reference Material

Reference Material about Volcanogenic Tsunami
  • Ball, E.E., and Johnson, R.W., 1976, Volcanic history of Long Island, Papua New Guinea, in Johnson, R.W., ed., 1976, Volcanism in Australia: Amsterdam, Elsevier, p. 133-147.
  • Belousov, A., Voight, B., Belousova, M., and Muravyev, Y., 2000, Tsunamis generated by  subaquatic volcanic explosions: unique data from the 1996 eruption in Karymskoye Lake, Kamchatka, Russia: Pure and Applied Geophysics, v. 157, p. 1135-1143.
  • Chen, J. K., Taylor, F. W., Edwards, R. L., Cheng, H., and Burr, G. S., 1995, Recent emerged reef  terraces of the Yenkahe resurgent block, Tanna, Vanuata: implications for volcanic, landslide, and tsunami hazards: The Journal of Geology, v. 103, p. 577-590.
  • Choi, B. H., Pelinovsky, E., Kim, K. O., and Lee, J.S., 2003, Simulation of the trans-oceanic tsunami propogation due to the 1883 Krakatau volcanic eruption: Natural Hazards and Earth Systems Sciences, v. 3, p. 321-332.
  • Dawson, A, and Stewart, I., 2007, Tsunami geosciences: Progress in Physical Geography, v. 31, p. 575-590.
  • Freundt, A., Strauch, W., Kutterolf, S., and Schmincke, H., 2007, Volcanogenic tsunamis in lakes: examples from Nicaragua and general implications: Pure and Applied Geophysics, v. 164, p. 527-545.
  • McCoy, F., and Heiken, G., 2000, Tsunami generated by the late Bronze Age eruption of Thera (Santorini), Greece: Pure and Applied Geophysics, v. 157, p. 1227-1256.
  • Milia, A., Molisso, F., Raspini, A., Sacchi, M., and Torrente, M. M., 2008, Syneruptive feature and sedimentary processes associated with pyroclastic currents entering the sea: the AD 79 eruption of Vesuvius, Bay of Naples, Italy: Journal of the Geological Society, v. 165, p. 839-848.
  • Nishimura, Y., Miyaji, N., and Suzuki, M., 1999, Behavior of historic tsunamis of volcanic origin as revealed by onshore tsunami deposits: Phys. Chem. Earth, v. 24, p. 985-988.
  • Oppenheimer, C., 2003, Clamatic, environmental and human consequences of the largest known historic eruption: Tambora volcano (Indonesia) 1815: Progress in Physical  Geography, v. 27, p. 230-259.
  • Pareschi, M. T., Favalli, M., and Boschi, E., 2006, Impact of the Minoan tsunami of Santorini: simulated scenarios in the eastern Mediterranean: Geophysical Research Letters, v. 33.
  • Scheffers, A., Scheffers, S., and Kelletat, D., 2005, Paleo-tsunami relics on the southern and central Antillean island arc: Journal of Coastal Research, v. 21, p. 263-273.
  • Simkin, T., and Siebert, L., 1994, Volcanoes of the World: Geoscience Press, Tucson, Arizona, p. 349.
  • Waythomas, C., Watts, P., and Walder, J. S., 2006, Numerical simulation of tsunami generation  by cold volcanic flows at Augustine Volcano, Alaska: Natural Hazards and Earth System Science, v. 6, p. 671-685.
  • Waythomas, C., Watts, P., Shi, F., and Kirby, J., 2009, Pacific Basin tsunami hazards associated with mass flows in the Aleutian arc of Alaska: Quaternary Science Reviews, v. 28, p. 1006-1019.
  • Whelan, F., and Kelletat, D., 2003, Submarine slides on volcanic islands – a source for mega-tsunamis in the Quaternary: Progress in Physical Geography, v. 27, p. 198-216.