Overview of the 1990-1995 eruption at Unzen Volcano

Setsuya Nakada, Hiroshi Shimizu, Kazuya Ohta

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Following 198 years of dormancy, a small phreatic eruption started at the summit of Unzen Volcano (Mt. Fugen) in November 1990. A swarm of volcano-tectonic (VT) earthquakes had begun below the western flank of the volcano a year before this eruption, and isolated tremor occurred below the summit shortly before it. The focus of VT events had migrated eastward to the summit and became shallower. Following a period of phreatic activity, phreatomagmatic eruptions began in February 1991, became larger with time, and developed into a dacite dome eruption in May 1991 that lasted approximately 4 years. The emergence of the dome followed inflation, demagnetization and a swarm of high-frequency (HF) earthquakes in the crater area. After the dome appeared, activity of the VT earthquakes and the summit HF events was replaced largely by low-frequency (LF) earthquakes. Magma was discharged nearly continuously through the period of dome growth, and the rate decreased roughly with time. The lava dome grew in an unstable form on the shoulder of Mt. Fugen, with repeating partial collapses. The growth was exogenous when the lava effusion rate was high, and endogenous when low. A total of 13 lobes grew as a result of exogenous growth. Vigorous swarms of LF earthquakes occurred just prior to each lobe extrusion. Endogenous growth was accompanied by strong deformation of the crater floor and HF and LF earthquakes. By repeated exogenous and endogenous growth, a large dome was formed over the crater. Pyroclastic flows frequently descended to the northeast, east, and southeast, and their deposits extensively covered the eastern slope and flank of Mt. Fugen. Major pyroclastic flows took place when the lava effusion rate was high. Small vulcanian explosions were limited in the initial stage of dome growth. One of them occurred following collapse of the dome. The total volume of magma erupted was 2.1 x 108 m3 (dense-rock-equivalent); about a half of this volume remained as a lava dome at the summit (1.2 km long, 0.8 km wide and 230-540 m high). The eruption finished with extrusion of a spin endogenous dome top. Several monitoring results convinced us that the eruption had come to an end: the minimal levels of both seismicity and rockfalls, no discharge of magma, the minimal SO2 flux, and cessation of subsidence of the western flank of the volcano. The dome started slow deformation and cooling after the halt of magma effusion in February 1995.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-22
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research
Issue number1-4
Publication statusPublished - Apr 1999

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geophysics
  • Geochemistry and Petrology


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