The most powerful volcanic eruption in recorded history was the 1815 eruption of Mount Tambora, an explosion equivalent to 33 billion tons of TNT.

Is there any way a cryovolcanic eruption could be as large as this? I couldn't find a source on how powerful a typical eruption is, but based on the low temperatures, I can guess that they're small. However, in a hypothetical moon where there is much stronger tidal friction than we see in the Solar System, I think the eruptions can become much larger.

  • $\begingroup$ Hello, and welcome to Stack Exchange. Very interesting question! I'm no pro, but I'm betting the answer depends on the materials' strength, and on the energies/pressures involved, both of which I believe would be limited in cryovolcanoes. $\endgroup$ Commented May 14, 2018 at 1:31
  • $\begingroup$ Do you mean an eruption of a volcano on earth, under ice, or an eruption of all kinds of liquids and ices such as found in moons in the outer solar system? $\endgroup$
    – Gimelist
    Commented May 14, 2018 at 22:46
  • $\begingroup$ The latter one. $\endgroup$ Commented May 14, 2018 at 23:49
  • $\begingroup$ As a layman, I would think that the "power" of a volcano would depend on how much pressure could build up before the "break-thru" eruption (kind of like a static friction value). My intuition is that water molecules could more easily escape and thus eruptions would be more like large "Old Faithfuls" than "Kilaueas". $\endgroup$ Commented May 20, 2018 at 17:31

1 Answer 1


Here is a recent preprint about a possible super cryovolcano on Pluto. In this study, Cruikshank et al. analyzed the morphology and composition of Kiladze, a wide (~44 km in diameter) depression at Pluto's surface. Based on its morphology and the nature of the deposits surrounding it, the authors conclude that the structure is not an impact crater but rather a caldera which would have erupted almost 1000 km3 of water-ice cryomagma:

In consideration of the size, structure, composition, and youth of Kiladze and surroundings, we interpret this region as a super cryovolcano with a resurgent caldera, having a history of one or more eruptions ejecting 103 km3 of cryolava, and possibly an unknown number of eruptions of smaller scale.

The 1815 eruption of Mount Tambora ejected about 175 km3 of material. Volcanologists usually speak in terms of volume of ejected material, which is used to define the Volcanic Explosivity Index (VEI) scale, rather than in terms of energy released. Both the Tambora and the proposed Kiladze eruption are classified VEI-7, the former in the lower end, the later in the upper, so I would argue that these events have been similar in terms of energy released. For more details about volume to energy conversion, see this answer.

enter image description here (a, b) 2D visualization of digital elevation model (DEM) and a triangulated irregular network (TIN) contour map at Kiladze area and surroundings. (c, d) 3D visualization of base map and triangulated irregular network (TIN) map at Kiladze area and surrounding. CC BY Cruikshank et al. (2023).


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