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Report on Erebus (Antarctica) — January 2021


Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, vol. 46, no. 1 (January 2021)
Managing Editor: Edward Venzke. Research and preparation by Paul Berger.

Erebus (Antarctica) Fewer thermal anomalies during 2020 compared to recent years

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 2021. Report on Erebus (Antarctica) (Venzke, E., ed.). Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, 46:1. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.BGVN202101-390020



77.53°S, 167.17°E; summit elev. 3794 m

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)

Erebus, located on Ross Island, Antarctica, and overlooking the McMurdo research station, is the southernmost active volcano in the world. The stratovolcano, which frequently has active lava lakes in its 250-m wide summit crater, is primarily monitored by satellite.

Thermal activity during 2020 was at lower levels than in recent years. The total number of thermal pixels, as recorded by MODIS thermal emission instruments aboard NASA’s Aqua and Terra satellites, was 76 (table 6), similar to low totals recorded in 2000 and 2015.

Table 6. Number of monthly MODIS-MODVOLC thermal alert pixels recorded at Erebus during 2017-2020. See BGVN 42:06 for data from 2000 through 2016. The table was compiled using data provided by the Hawai'i Institute of Geophysics and Planetology (HIGP) - MODVOLC Thermal Alerts System.

Year Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec SUM
2017 0 21 9 0 0 1 11 61 76 52 0 3 234
2018 0 21 58 182 55 17 137 172 103 29 0 0 774
2019 2 21 162 151 55 56 75 53 29 19 1 0 624
2020 0 2 16 18 4 4 1 3 18 3 1 6 76

Sentinel-2 satellite images showed two lava lakes, with one diminishing in size during the year (figure 29). Occasionally a gas plume could be observed. The volcano was frequently covered by atmospheric clouds on days when the satellite passed over.

Figure (see Caption) Figure 29. Infrared Sentinel-2 thermal images of the summit crater area of Erebus in 2020. Left: Image on 28 February 2020 showing two lava lakes in the summit crater. Right: Image on 4 October 2020 showing a single primary lake, with a much diminished second lake immediately SW. The main crater is 500 x 600 m wide. Both images are using the Atmospheric Penetration filter (bands 12, 11, 8A). Courtesy of Sentinel Hub Playground.

Geological Summary. Mount Erebus, the world's southernmost historically active volcano, overlooks the McMurdo research station on Ross Island. It is the largest of three major volcanoes forming the crudely triangular Ross Island. The summit of the dominantly phonolitic volcano has been modified by one or two generations of caldera formation. A summit plateau at about 3,200 m elevation marks the rim of the youngest caldera, which formed during the late-Pleistocene and within which the modern cone was constructed. An elliptical 500 x 600 m wide, 110-m-deep crater truncates the summit and contains an active lava lake within a 250-m-wide, 100-m-deep inner crater; other lava lakes are sometimes present. The glacier-covered volcano was erupting when first sighted by Captain James Ross in 1841. Continuous lava-lake activity with minor explosions, punctuated by occasional larger Strombolian explosions that eject bombs onto the crater rim, has been documented since 1972, but has probably been occurring for much of the volcano's recent history.

Information Contacts: Hawai'i Institute of Geophysics and Planetology (HIGP) - MODVOLC Thermal Alerts System, School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology (SOEST), Univ. of Hawai'i, 2525 Correa Road, Honolulu, HI 96822, USA (URL: http://modis.higp.hawaii.edu/); Sentinel Hub Playground (URL: https://www.sentinel-hub.com/explore/sentinel-playground).