Bulletin of Volcanology

, Volume 74, Issue 5, pp 1213–1233 | Cite as

The geological evolution of Merapi volcano, Central Java, Indonesia

  • Ralf GertisserEmail author
  • Sylvain J. Charbonnier
  • Jörg Keller
  • Xavier Quidelleur
Research Article


Merapi is an almost persistently active basalt to basaltic andesite volcanic complex in Central Java (Indonesia) and often referred to as the type volcano for small-volume pyroclastic flows generated by gravitational lava dome failures (Merapi-type nuées ardentes). Stratigraphic field data, published and new radiocarbon ages in conjunction with a new set of 40K–40Ar and 40Ar–39Ar ages, and whole-rock geochemical data allow a reassessment of the geological and geochemical evolution of the volcanic complex. An adapted version of the published geological map of Merapi [(Wirakusumah et al. 1989), Peta Geologi Gunungapi Merapi, Jawa Tengah (Geologic map of Merapi volcano, Central Java), 1:50,000] is presented, in which eight main volcano stratigraphic units are distinguished, linked to three main evolutionary stages of the volcanic complex—Proto-Merapi, Old Merapi and New Merapi. Construction of the Merapi volcanic complex began after 170 ka. The two earliest (Proto-Merapi) volcanic edifices, Gunung Bibi (109 ± 60 ka), a small basaltic andesite volcanic structure on Merapi’s north-east flank, and Gunung Turgo and Gunung Plawangan (138 ± 3 ka; 135 ± 3 ka), two basaltic hills in the southern sector of the volcano, predate the Merapi cone sensu stricto. Old Merapi started to grow at ~30 ka, building a stratovolcano of basaltic andesite lavas and intercalated pyroclastic rocks. This older Merapi edifice was destroyed by one or, possibly, several flank failures, the latest of which occurred after 4.8 ± 1.5 ka and marks the end of the Old Merapi stage. The construction of the recent Merapi cone (New Merapi) began afterwards. Mostly basaltic andesite pyroclastic and epiclastic deposits of both Old and New Merapi (<11,792 ± 90 14C years BP) cover the lower flanks of the edifice. A shift from medium-K to high-K character of the eruptive products occurred at ~1,900 14C years BP, with all younger products having high-K affinity. The radiocarbon record points towards an almost continuous activity of Merapi since this time, with periods of high eruption frequency interrupted by shorter intervals of apparently lower eruption rates, which is reflected in the geochemical composition of the eruptive products. The Holocene stratigraphic record reveals that fountain collapse pyroclastic flows are a common phenomenon at Merapi. The distribution and run-out distances of these flows have frequently exceeded those of the classic Merapi-type nuées ardentes of the recent activity. Widespread pumiceous fallout deposits testify the occurrence of moderate to large (subplinian) eruptions (VEI 3–4) during the mid to late Holocene. VEI 4 eruptions, as identified in the stratigraphic record, are an order of magnitude larger than any recorded historical eruption of Merapi, except for the 1872 AD and, possibly, the October–November 2010 events. Both types of eruptive and volcanic phenomena require careful consideration in long-term hazard assessment at Merapi.


Merapi Stratigraphy Chronology Radiocarbon dating K–Ar dating Ar–Ar dating Merapi-type volcanism 



We gratefully acknowledge our colleagues at the Merapi Volcano Observatory (BPPTK) in Yogyakarta for their generosity and support over many years. Sutisna, Dedi, Budi, Sony and Biyanto are thanked for the logistical support in Indonesia and for bringing us to the most remote parts of Merapi. Pierre-Yves Gillot (Université Paris-Sud, Orsay) and Simon Kelley (The Open University) kindly provided access to their K–Ar and Ar–Ar dating facilities, respectively. We appreciate the stimulating discussions about Merapi with Supriyati Andreastuti, Sutikno Bronto, Mary-Ann del Marmol, Alain Gourgaud, Chris Newhall, Lothar Schwarzkopf, Valentin Troll and Barry Voight, and the insightful reviews by Chris Newhall and Alain Gourgaud. Funding was provided primarily by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (German Research Foundation). Financial support from the Natural Environment Research Council (UK), the Mineralogical Society of Great Britain and Ireland, and the Research Institute for the Environment, Physical Sciences and Applied Mathematics (EPSAM) at Keele University is also acknowledged.

Supplementary material

445_2012_591_MOESM1_ESM.xlsx (56 kb)
Supplementary Table 1 Merapi radiocarbon databasea (XLSX 56 kb)
445_2012_591_MOESM2_ESM.xlsx (82 kb)
Supplementary Table 2 Merapi whole-rock geochemistry database (XLSX 81 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ralf Gertisser
    • 1
    Email author
  • Sylvain J. Charbonnier
    • 1
    • 2
  • Jörg Keller
    • 3
  • Xavier Quidelleur
    • 4
    • 5
  1. 1.School of Physical and Geographical SciencesKeele UniversityKeeleUK
  2. 2.Department of GeologyUniversity of South FloridaTampaUSA
  3. 3.Institut für Geowissenschaften, Mineralogie-GeochemieAlbert-Ludwigs-UniversitätFreiburg im BreisgauGermany
  4. 4.Université Paris-Sud, Laboratoire IDESOrsayFrance
  5. 5.CNRSOrsayFrance

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