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A caldera is a cauldron-like volcanic feature usually formed by the collapse of land following a volcanic eruption, such as the one at Yellowstone National Park in the US. They are sometimes confused with volcanic craters. The word comes from Spanish caldera, and this from Latin CALDARIA, meaning "cooking pot". In some texts the English term cauldron is also used.

In 1815, the German geologist Leopold von Buch visited the Las Cañadas caldera of Teide on Tenerife, and the Caldera de Taburiente on La Palma, both in the Canary Islands. When he published his memoirs he introduced the term caldera into the geological vocabulary.


Caldera formation

A collapse is triggered by the emptying of the magma chamber beneath the volcano, usually as the result of a large volcanic eruption. If enough magma is ejected, the emptied chamber is unable to support the weight of the volcanic edifice above it. A roughly circular fracture, the ring fault, develops around the edge of the chamber. Ring fractures serve as feeders for fault intrusions which are also known as ring dykes. Secondary volcanic vents may form above the ring fracture. As the magma chamber empties, the center of the volcano within the ring fracture begins to collapse. The collapse may occur as the result of a single cataclysmic eruption, or it may occur in stages as the result of a series of eruptions. The total area that collapses may be hundreds or thousands of square kilometers.

Explosive calderas

If the magma is rich in silica, the caldera is often filled in with ignimbrite, tuff, rhyolite, and other igneous rocks. Silica-rich magma does have a high viscosity, and therefore does not flow easily like basalt. As a result, gases tend to become trapped at high pressure within the magma. When the magma approaches the surface of the Earth, the rapid off-loading of overlying material causes the trapped gases to decompress rapidly, thus triggering explosive destruction of the magma and spreading volcanic ash over wide areas. The lava of explosive calderas is called A'a. Further lava flows may be erupted.

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