Bulletin of Volcanology

, 81:51 | Cite as

A new method to identify the source vent location of tephra fall deposits: development, testing, and application to key Quaternary eruptions of Western North America

  • Qingyuan YangEmail author
  • Marcus Bursik
  • E. Bruce Pitman
Research Article


A new method to identify the source vent location of tephra fall deposits based on thickness or maximum clast size measurements is presented in this work. It couples a first-order gradient descent method with either one of two commonly used semi-empirical models of tephra thickness distribution. The method is applied to three tephra thickness and one maximum clast size datasets of the North Mono and Fogo A tephra deposits. Randomly selected and localized subsets of these datasets are used as input to evaluate its performance. The results suggest the utility of the method and show that estimating the dispersal axis is a more robust way to constrain the vent location compared with directly estimating the vent coordinates given sparse observations. Local change in dispersal direction can be detected given localized observations. Bootstrap aggregating and visualizing the surface of the cost function are used to analyze epistemic uncertainty for the method. Our discussion focuses on how different features of tephra deposits and technical aspects of the method would affect the performance of the method. Suggestions on how to use the method given limited observations are listed. One subset of the North Mono Bed 1 thickness dataset and thickness datasets of the Trego Hot Springs and Rockland tephras are used as case studies. The method is then applied to the well-correlated tephra sub-units within the Wilson Creek Formation to estimate their vent location and volume. The simplicity and flexibility of the method make it a potentially useful tool for analyzing tephra fall deposits.


Tephra source vent Thickness and maximum clast size distribution Tephra correlation Eruption parameter estimation Inverse method 



S. Engwell is thanked for kindly sharing the data. We thank the reviewers for commenting on an earlier version of this manuscript.

Funding information

This work was supported by National Science Foundation Hazard SEES grant number 1521855 to G. Valentine, M. Bursik, E.B. Pitman, and A.K. Patra and National Science Foundation Division of Mathematical Sciences grant number 1621853 to A.K. Patra, M. Bursik, and E.B. Pitman.

Compliance with ethical standards


The opinions expressed herein are those of the authors alone and do not reflect the opinion of the NSF.

Supplementary material

445_2019_1310_MOESM1_ESM.docx (2.2 mb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 2284 kb)


  1. Adams KD (2010) Lake levels and sedimentary environments during deposition of the Trego Hot Springs and Wono tephras in the lake Lahontan basin, Nevada, USA. Quat Res 73(1):118–129Google Scholar
  2. Alloway B, Westgate J, Sandhu A, Bright R (1992) Isothermal plateau fission-track age and revised distribution of the widespread mid-Pleistocene Rockland tephra in west-central United States. Geophys Res Lett 19(6):569–572Google Scholar
  3. Bailey RA (2004) Eruptive history and chemical evolution of the precaldera and postcaldera basalt-dacite sequences, Long Valley, California: implications for magma sources, current seismic unrest, and future volcanism. Number 1692. US Department of the Interior, US Geological SurveyGoogle Scholar
  4. Benson LV, Smoot JP, Kashgarian M, Sarna-Wojcicki A, Burdett JW (1997) Radiocarbon ages and environments of deposition of the Wono and Trego Hot Springs tephra layers in the Pyramid Lake subbasin, Nevada. Quat Res 47(3):251–260Google Scholar
  5. Benson L, Liddicoat J, Smoot J, Sarna-Wojcicki A, Negrini R, Lund S (2003) Age of the Mono Lake excursion and associated tephra. Quat Sci Rev 22(2):135–140Google Scholar
  6. Benson LV, Smoot JP, Lund SP, Mensing SA, Foit F Jr, Rye RO (2013) Insights from a synthesis of old and new climate-proxy data from the Pyramid and Winnemucca lake basins for the period 48 to 11.5 cal ka. Quat Int 310:62–82Google Scholar
  7. Bevilacqua A, Bursik M, Patra A, Pitman EB, Till R (2017) Bayesian construction of a long-term vent opening probability map in the Long Valley volcanic region (CA, USA). Stat Volcanol 3(1):1–36Google Scholar
  8. Bevilacqua A, Bursik M, Patra A, Bruce Pitman E, Yang Q, Sangani R, Kobs-Nawotniak S (2018) Late Quaternary eruption record and probability of future volcanic eruptions in the Long Valley volcanic region (CA, USA). J Geophys Res Solid Earth 123(7):5466–5494Google Scholar
  9. Biass S, Bonadonna C (2011) A quantitative uncertainty assessment of eruptive parameters derived from tephra deposits: the example of two large eruptions of Cotopaxi volcano, Ecuador. Bull Volcanol 73(1):73–90Google Scholar
  10. Biasse S, Bagheri G, Aeberhard W, Bonadonna C (2014) TError: towards a better quantification of the uncertainty propagated during the characterization of tephra deposits. Stat Volcanol 1(2):1–27Google Scholar
  11. Bonadonna C, Costa A (2012) Estimating the volume of tephra deposits: a new simple strategy. Geology, pages G32769–1Google Scholar
  12. Bonadonna C, Phillips JC (2003) Sedimentation from strong volcanic plumes. J Geophys Res Solid Earth 108(B7)Google Scholar
  13. Bonadonna C, Ernst G, Sparks R (1998) Thickness variations and volume estimates of tephra fall deposits: the importance of particle Reynolds number. J Volcanol Geotherm Res 81(3):173–187Google Scholar
  14. Bonadonna C, Mayberry G, Calder E, Sparks R, Choux C, Jackson P, Lejeune A, Loughlin S, Norton G, Rose W et al (2002) Tephra fallout in the eruption of Soufrière Hills Volcano, Montserrat. Geol Soc Lond Mem 21(1):483–516Google Scholar
  15. Bonadonna C, Connor CB, Houghton B, Connor L, Byrne M, Laing A, Hincks T (2005) Probabilistic modeling of tephra dispersal: hazard assessment of a multiphase rhyolitic eruption at Tarawera, New Zealand. J Geophys Res Solid Earth 110(B3)Google Scholar
  16. Bonadonna C, Biass S, Costa A (2015) Physical characterization of explosive volcanic eruptions based on tephra deposits: propagation of uncertainties and sensitivity analysis. J Volcanol Geotherm Res 296:80–100Google Scholar
  17. Bonasia R, Macedonio G, Costa A, Mele D, Sulpizio R (2010) Numerical inversion and analysis of tephra fallout deposits from the 472 AD sub-Plinian eruption at Vesuvius (Italy) through a new best-fit procedure. J Volcanol Geotherm Res 189(3):238–246Google Scholar
  18. Bowers R (2009) Quaternary stratigraphy, geomorphology, and hydrologic history of pluvial Lake Madeline, Lassen County, northeastern California. PhD thesis, Humboldt State UniversityGoogle Scholar
  19. Breiman L (1996) Bagging predictors. Mach Learn 24(2):123–140Google Scholar
  20. Burden R, Phillips J, Hincks T (2011) Estimating volcanic plume heights from depositional clast size. J Geophys Res Solid Earth 116(B11)Google Scholar
  21. Burden R, Chen L, Phillips J (2013) A statistical method for determining the volume of volcanic fall deposits. Bull Volcanol 75(6):707Google Scholar
  22. Bursik M (1993) Subplinian eruption mechanisms inferred from volatile and clast dispersal data. J Volcanol Geotherm Res 57(1):57–70Google Scholar
  23. Bursik M (2001) Effect of wind on the rise height of volcanic plumes. Geophys Res Lett 28(18):3621–3624Google Scholar
  24. Bursik M, Rogova G (2006) Use of neural networks and decision fusion for lithostratigraphic correlation with sparse data, Mono-Inyo Craters, California. Comput Geosci 32(10):1564–1572Google Scholar
  25. Bursik M, Sieh K (1989) Range front faulting and volcanism in the Mono Basin, eastern California. J Geophys Res Solid Earth 94(B11):15587–15609Google Scholar
  26. Bursik M, Sieh K (2013) Digital database of the Holocene tephras of the Mono-Inyo Craters, California. Technical report, US Geological SurveyGoogle Scholar
  27. Bursik M, Carey S, Sparks R (1992a) A gravity current model for the May 18, 1980 Mount St. Helens plume. Geophys Res Lett 19(16):1663–1666Google Scholar
  28. Bursik M, Sparks R, Gilbert J, Carey S (1992b) Sedimentation of tephra by volcanic plumes: I. theory and its comparison with a study of the Fogo A plinian deposit, São Miguel (Azores). Bull Volcanol 54(4):329–344Google Scholar
  29. Bursik M, Sieh K, Meltzner A (2014) Deposits of the most recent eruption in the Southern Mono Craters, California: description, interpretation and implications for regional marker tephras. J Volcanol Geotherm Res 275:114–131Google Scholar
  30. Carey S, Sparks R (1986) Quantitative models of the fallout and dispersal of tephra from volcanic eruption columns. Bull Volcanol 48(2–3):109–125Google Scholar
  31. Clynne M (1984) Stratigraphy and major element geochemistry of the Lassen volcanic center, California. Technical report, Geological Survey, Menlo Park, CA (USA)Google Scholar
  32. Clynne MA, Muffler LJP (2010) Geologic map of Lassen Volcanic National Park and vicinity, California. US Department of the Interior, US Geological SurveyGoogle Scholar
  33. Connor L, Connor CB (2006) Inversion is the key to dispersion: understanding eruption dynamics by inverting tephra fallout. Statistics in volcanology. Geological Society, London, pp 231–242Google Scholar
  34. Costa A, Folch A, Macedonio G (2013) Density-driven transport in the umbrella region of volcanic clouds: implications for tephra dispersion models. Geophys Res Lett 40(18):4823–4827Google Scholar
  35. Csanady GT (1973) The fluctuation problem in turbulent diffusion. In: Turbulent diffusion in the environment. Springer, pp. 10–26Google Scholar
  36. Davis JO (1978) Quaternary tephrochronology of the Lake Lahontan area, Nevada and California. Doctoral dissertation, University of NevadaGoogle Scholar
  37. Engwell S, Sparks R, Aspinall W (2013) Quantifying uncertainties in the measurement of tephra fall thickness. J Appl Volcanol 2(1):5Google Scholar
  38. Engwell S, Aspinall W, Sparks R (2015) An objective method for the production of isopach maps and implications for the estimation of tephra deposit volumes and their uncertainties. Bull Volcanol 77(7):1–18Google Scholar
  39. Fierstein J, Nathenson M (1992) Another look at the calculation of fallout tephra volumes. Bull Volcanol 54(2):156–167Google Scholar
  40. Gonzalez-Mellado A, Cruz-Reyna S (2010) A simple semi-empirical approach to model thickness of ash-deposits for different eruption scenarios. Nat Hazards Earth Syst Sci 10(11):2241–2257Google Scholar
  41. Green RM, Bebbington MS, Cronin SJ, Jones G (2014) Automated statistical matching of multiple tephra records exemplified using five long maar sequences younger than 75ka, Auckland, New Zealand. Quat Res 82(2):405–419Google Scholar
  42. Green RM, Bebbington MS, Jones G, Cronin SJ, Turner MB (2016) Estimation of tephra volumes from sparse and incompletely observed deposit thicknesses. Bull Volcanol 78(4):1–18Google Scholar
  43. Hildreth W (2004) Volcanological perspectives on Long Valley, Mammoth Mountain, and Mono Craters: several contiguous but discrete systems. J Volcanol Geotherm Res 136(3):169–198Google Scholar
  44. Kawabata E, Bebbington MS, Cronin SJ, Wang T (2013) Modeling thickness variability in tephra deposition. Bull Volcanol 75(8):1–14Google Scholar
  45. Kawabata E, Cronin S, Bebbington M, Moufti M, El-Masry N, Wang T (2015) Identifying multiple eruption phases from a compound tephra blanket: an example of the AD 1256 AI-Madinah eruption, Saudi Arabia. Bull Volcanol 77(1):1–13Google Scholar
  46. Kawabata E, Bebbington MS, Cronin SJ, Wang T (2016) Optimal likelihood-based matching of volcanic sources and deposits in the Auckland volcanic field. J Volcanol Geotherm Res 323:194–208Google Scholar
  47. King M, Busacca AJ, Foit FF, Kemp RA (2001) Identification of disseminated Trego Hot Springs tephra in the Palouse, Washington State. Quat Res 56(2):165–169Google Scholar
  48. Klawonn M, Wolfe CJ, Frazer LN, Houghton BF (2012) Novel inversion approach to constrain plume sedimentation from tephra deposit data: application to the 17 June 1996 eruption of Ruapehu volcano, New Zealand. J Geophys Res Solid Earth 117(B5)Google Scholar
  49. Klawonn M, Houghton BF, Swanson DA, Fagents SA, Wessel P, Wolfe CJ (2014) Constraining explosive volcanism: subjective choices during estimates of eruption magnitude. Bull Volcanol 76(2):793Google Scholar
  50. Koyaguchi T (1994) Grain-size variation of tephra derived from volcanic umbrella clouds. Bull Volcanol 56(1):1–9Google Scholar
  51. Lajoie KR (1968) Late Quaternary stratigraphy and geologic history of Mono Basin, eastern California. University of CaliforniaGoogle Scholar
  52. Lanphere MA, Champion DE, Clynne MA, Patrick Muffler L (1999) Revised age of the Rockland tephra, northern California: implications for climate and stratigraphic reconstructions in the western United States. Geology 27(2):135–138Google Scholar
  53. Lanphere MA, Champion DE, Christiansen RL, Izett GA, Obradovich JD (2002) Revised ages for tuffs of the Yellowstone Plateau volcanic field: assignment of the Huckleberry Ridge Tuff to a new geomagnetic polarity event. Geol Soc Am Bull 114(5):559–568Google Scholar
  54. Lanphere M, Champion D, Clynne M, Lowenstern J, Sarna-Wojcicki A, Wooden J (2004) Age of the Rockland tephra, western USA. Quat Res 62(1):94–104Google Scholar
  55. Madsen DB, Sarna-Wojcicki AM, Thompson RS (2002) A late Pleistocene tephra layer in the southern Great Basin and Colorado Plateau derived from Mono Craters, California. Quat Res 57(3):382–390Google Scholar
  56. Marcaida M (2015) Resolving the timing of late Pleistocene dome emplacement at Mono Craters, California, from 238U–230Th and 40Ar/39Ar dating. San Jose State UniversityGoogle Scholar
  57. Marcaida M, Mangan MT, Vazquez JA, Bursik M, Lidzbarski MI (2014) Geochemical fingerprinting of Wilson Creek formation tephra layers (Mono Basin, California) using titanomagnetite compositions. J Volcanol Geotherm Res 273:1–14Google Scholar
  58. Marcaida M, Vazquez JA, Stelten ME, Miller JS (2019) Constraining the Early Eruptive History of the Mono Craters Rhyolites, California, Based on U‐ Th Isochron Dating of Their Explosive and Effusive Products. Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems 20 (3):1539–1556Google Scholar
  59. Miller CD (1985) Holocene eruptions at the Inyo volcanic chain, California: implications for possible eruptions in Long Valley caldera. Geology 13(1):14–17Google Scholar
  60. Moore RB (1990) Volcanic geology and eruption frequency, São Miguel, Azores. Bull Volcanol 52(8):602–614Google Scholar
  61. Nathenson M, Fierstein J (2014) Spread sheet to calculate tephra volume for exponential thinning.
  62. Nawotniak SK, Bursik M (2010) Subplinian fall deposits of Inyo Craters, CA. J Volcanol Geotherm Res 198(3):433–446Google Scholar
  63. Negrini RM, Verosub KL, Davis JO (1988) The middle to late Pleistocene geomagnetic field recorded in fine-grained sediments from Summer Lake, Oregon, and Double Hot Springs, Nevada, USA. Earth Planet Sci Lett 87(1–2):173–192Google Scholar
  64. Pouget S, Bursik M, Cortes JA, Hayward C (2014a) Use of principal component analysis for identification of Rockland and Trego Hot Springs tephras in the Hat Creek Graben, northeastern California, USA. Quat Res 81(1):125–137Google Scholar
  65. Pouget S, Bursik M, Rogova G (2014b) Tephra redeposition and mixing in a late-glacial hillside basin determined by fusion of clustering analyses of glass-shard geochemistry. J Quat Sci 29(8):789–802Google Scholar
  66. Pouget S, Bursik M, Singla P, Singh T (2016) Sensitivity analysis of a one-dimensional model of a volcanic plume with particle fallout and collapse behavior. J Volcanol Geotherm Res 326:43–53Google Scholar
  67. Pyle DM (1989) The thickness, volume and grainsize of tephra fall deposits. Bull Volcanol 51(1):1–15Google Scholar
  68. R Core Team (2017) R: a language and environment for statistical computing. R Foundation for Statistical Computing, ViennaGoogle Scholar
  69. Rhoades DA, Dowrick D, Wilson C (2002) Volcanic hazard in New Zealand: scaling and attenuation relations for tephra fall deposits from Taupo Volcano. Nat Hazards 26(2):147–174Google Scholar
  70. Rieck HJ, Sarna-Wojcicki AM, Meyer CE, Adam DP (1992) Magnetostratigraphy and tephrochronology of an upper Pliocene to Holocene record in lake sediments at Tulelake, northern California. Geol Soc Am Bull 104(4):409–428Google Scholar
  71. Rogova GL, Bursik MI, Hanson-Hedgecock S (2007) Interpreting the pattern of volcano eruptions: intelligent system for tephra layer correlation. In: Information fusion, 2007 10th international conference on, pages 1–7. IEEEGoogle Scholar
  72. Rogova GL, Bursik MI, Pouget S (2015) Learning under uncertainty for interpreting the pattern of volcanic eruptions. In Information Fusion (Fusion), 2015 18th International Conference on, pages 375–382. IEEEGoogle Scholar
  73. Sarna-Wojcicki A (2000) Revised age of the Rockland tephra, northern California: implications for climate and stratigraphic reconstructions in the western United States: comment: COMMENT. Geology 28(3):286–286Google Scholar
  74. Sarna-Wojcicki AM, Meyer CE, Bowman HR, Hall NT, Russell PC, Woodward MJ, Slate JL (1985) Correlation of the Rockland ash bed, a 400,000-year-old stratigraphic marker in northern California and western Nevada, and implications for middle Pleistocene paleogeography of central California. Quat Res 23(2):236–257Google Scholar
  75. Sarna-Wojcicki A, Morrison SD, Meyer C, Hillhouse J (1987) Correlation of upper Cenozoic tephra layers between sediments of the western United States and eastern Pacific Ocean and comparison with biostratigraphic and magnetostratigraphic age data. Geol Soc Am Bull 98(2):207–223Google Scholar
  76. Sarna-Wojcicki AM, Davis JO, Morrison R (1991) Quaternary tephrochronology, Quaternary nonglacial geology: Conterminous United States: Boulder, Colorado, Geological Society of America. Geol North Am 2:93–116Google Scholar
  77. Schwaiger HF, Denlinger RP, Mastin LG (2012) Ash3d: a finite-volume, conservative numerical model for ash transport and tephra deposition. J Geophys Res Solid Earth 117(B4)Google Scholar
  78. Scollo S, Tarantola S, Bonadonna C, Coltelli M, Saltelli A (2008) Sensitivity analysis and uncertainty estimation for tephra dispersal models. J Geophys Res Solid Earth 113(B6)Google Scholar
  79. Self S (1983) Large-scale phreatomagmatic silicic volcanism: a case study from New Zealand. J Volcanol Geotherm Res 17(1–4):433–469Google Scholar
  80. Sieh K, Bursik M (1986) Most recent eruption of the Mono Craters, eastern central California. J Geophys Res Solid Earth 91(B12):12539–12571Google Scholar
  81. Sigl M, Winstrup M, McConnell J, Welten K, Plunkett G, Ludlow F, Buntgen U, Caffee M, Chellman N, Dahl-Jensen D et al (2015) Timing and climate forcing of volcanic eruptions for the past 2,500 years. Nature 523(7562):543–549Google Scholar
  82. Sparks R, Carey S, Sigurdsson H (1991) Sedimentation from gravity currents generated by turbulent plumes. Sedimentology 38(5):839–856Google Scholar
  83. Sparks R, Bursik M, Ablay G, Thomas R, Carey S (1992) Sedimentation of tephra by volcanic plumes. Part 2: controls on thickness and grain-size variations of tephra fall deposits. Bull Volcanol 54(8):685–695Google Scholar
  84. Suzuki T (1983) A theoretical model for dispersion of tephra. Arc Volcanism: Physics and Tectonics 95:113Google Scholar
  85. Turner MB, Bebbington MS, Cronin SJ, Stewart RB (2009) Merging eruption datasets: building an integrated Holocene eruptive record for Mt Taranaki, New Zealand. Bull Volcanol 71(8):903–918Google Scholar
  86. Volentik AC, Bonadonna C, Connor CB, Connor LJ, Rosi M (2010) Modeling tephra dispersal in absence of wind: insights from the climactic phase of the 2450 BP Plinian eruption of Pululagua volcano (Ecuador). J Volcanol Geotherm Res 193(1):117–136Google Scholar
  87. Walker G, Croasdale R (1971a) Characteristics of some basaltic pyroclastics. Bull Volcanol 35(2):303–317Google Scholar
  88. Walker G, Croasdale R (1971b) Two Plinian-type eruptions in the Azores. J Geol Soc 127(1):17–55Google Scholar
  89. White J, Connor C, Connor L, Hasenaka T (2017) Efficient inversion and uncertainty quantification of a tephra fallout model. J Geophys Res Solid Earth 122(1):281–294Google Scholar
  90. Wilson CJ, Hildreth W (1997) The Bishop Tuff: new insights from eruptive stratigraphy. J Geol 105(4):407–440Google Scholar
  91. Wood SH (1977) Distribution, correlation, and radiocarbon dating of late Holocene tephra, Mono and Inyo craters, eastern California. Geol Soc Am Bull 88(1):89–95Google Scholar
  92. Yang Q, Bursik M (2016) A new interpolation method to model thickness, isopachs, extent, and volume of tephra fall deposits. Bull Volcanol 78(10):68Google Scholar
  93. Yang Q, Bursik MI, Pitman EB (2018) A new method to identify the vent location of tephra fall deposits based on thickness or maximum clast size measurements (SVL).
  94. Yang Q, Bursik M, Pouget S (2019) Stratigraphic and sedimentologic framework for tephras in the Wilson Creek Formation, Mono Basin, California, USA. J Volcanol Geotherm ResGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© International Association of Volcanology & Chemistry of the Earth's Interior 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of GeologyUniversity at BuffaloBuffaloUSA
  2. 2.Department of Materials Design and InnovationUniversity at BuffaloBuffaloUSA

Personalised recommendations