Elliptical calderas in active tectonic settings: an experimental approach

E.P. Holohan, V.R. Troll, T.R. Walter, S. Munn, S. McDonnell, Z.K. Shipton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

83 Citations (Scopus)


Caldera volcanoes form due to collapse of a magma chamber roof into the underlying magma chamber. Many field, theoretical and experimental studies have postulated that calderas are delimited by reverse ring faults and are surrounded by peripheral concentric normal faults. In the simplest theoretical scenario, circular magma chambers produce circular calderas. Many calderas, however, are elliptical in shape, particularly those in extensional and compressive tectonic settings. Several factors may explain elliptical calderas. The first is the presence of an elliptical magma chamber, established by, for instance, preferential intrusion along pre-existing basement structures or differential spalling of the magma chamber walls. The second is the overlap (nesting) of several discrete calderas to form a single, larger elliptical structure. The third is asymmetric subsidence. The fourth is variable pre-collapse topography. A fifth possible factor is distortion of the caldera faults by the regional stress field during caldera formation. A sixth factor is the post-collapse distortion of the caldera structure due to continued regional deformation.

To better understand relationships between caldera surface expression, reservoir geometry and regional tectonic stresses, we conducted scaled analogue experiments. These experiments examined the impact of regional stress and associated structures on calderas formed during evacuation of reservoirs (circular rubber balloons) of known dimensions and depths. The results show that, in principle, calderas produced in compression/extension experiments are elongated parallel to the direction of minimum horizontal compressive stress, despite the chamber beneath being circular in plan view. As a consequence, model ring fault orientation varied from steeply dipping where striking perpendicular to the minimum horizontal regional compressive stress, to shallower dips where striking parallel to the minimum horizontal regional compressive stress. This leads us to suggest that the influence of a regional stress field on caldera fault orientation during and/or after caldera formation may be significant in the development of elliptical calderas. In addition, such variation of caldera ring fault dip from steep to relatively shallow could influence location and behaviour of ring fissure eruptions.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)119-136
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research
Issue number1-4
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jun 2005
Externally publishedYes


  • collapse calderas
  • volcano tectonics
  • ring faults
  • elliptical calderas


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