Bulletin of Volcanology

, Volume 66, Issue 8, pp 671–686 | Cite as

40Ar/39Ar dating of the eruptive history of Mount Erebus, Antarctica: volcano evolution

  • Richard P. Esser
  • Philip R. Kyle
  • William C. McIntosh
Research Article


Mt. Erebus, a 3,794-meter-high active polygenetic stratovolcano, is composed of voluminous anorthoclase-phyric tephriphonolite and phonolite lavas overlying unknown volumes of poorly exposed, less differentiated lavas. The older basanite to phonotephrite lavas crop out on Fang Ridge, an eroded remnant of a proto-Erebus volcano and at other isolated locations on the flanks of the Mt. Erebus edifice. Anorthoclase feldspars in the phonolitic lavas are large (~10 cm), abundant (~30–40%) and contain numerous melt inclusions. Although excess argon is known to exist within the melt inclusions, rigorous sample preparation was used to remove the majority of the contaminant. Twenty-five sample sites were dated by the 40Ar/39Ar method (using 20 anorthoclase, 5 plagioclase and 9 groundmass concentrates) to examine the eruptive history of the volcano. Cape Barne, the oldest site, is 1,311±16 ka and represents the first of three stages of eruptive activity on the Mt. Erebus edifice. It shows a transition from sub-aqueous to sub-aerial volcanism that may mark the initiation of proto-Erebus eruptive activity. It is inferred that a further ~300 ky of basanitic/phonotephritic volcanism built a low, broad platform shield volcano. Cessation of the shield-building phase is marked by eruptions at Fang Ridge at ~1,000 ka. The termination of proto-Erebus eruptive activity is marked by the stratigraphically highest flow at Fang Ridge (758±20 ka). Younger lavas (~550–250 ka) on a modern-Erebus edifice are characterized by phonotephrites, tephriphonolites and trachytes. Plagioclase-phyric phonotephrite from coastal and flank flows yield ages between 531±38 and 368±18 ka. The initiation of anorthoclase tephriphonolite occurred in the southwest sector of the volcano at and around Turks Head (243±10 ka). A short pulse of effusive activity marked by crustal contamination occurred ~160 ka as indicated by at least two trachytic flows (157±6 and 166±10 ka). Most anorthoclase-phyric lavas, characteristic of Mt. Erebus, are less than 250 ka. All Mt. Erebus flows between about 250 and 90 ka are anorthoclase tephriphonolite in composition.


Mount Erebus Geology Geochronology 40Ar/39Ar dating Eruptive history Antarctica Ross island 



This work was supported by grants from the Office of Polar Programs, National Science Foundation. Additional funding came from within the NMGRL at the New Mexico Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources. The authors would like to thank Nelia Dunbar for her discussions on magma chemistry and melt inclusion properties. Additional thanks goes to NSF, the Antarctic Support Associates and the US Navy VXE-6 squadron who provided the necessary field support. Improvements in the manuscript resulted from reviews by J. Kelly Russell and Andrew Calvert.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • Richard P. Esser
    • 1
  • Philip R. Kyle
    • 1
    • 2
  • William C. McIntosh
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.New Mexico Bureau of Geology and Mineral ResourcesNew Mexico Institute of Mining and TechnologySocorroUSA
  2. 2.Department of Earth and Environmental ScienceNew Mexico Institute of Mining and TechnologySocorroUSA

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