Recurrent explosive eruptions from a high-risk Main Ethiopian Rift volcano throughout the Holocene

07 Nov 2017

Corbetti caldera is the southernmost large volcanic system in Ethiopia, and has been categorized at the highest level of uncertainty in terms of hazard and risk. Until now, the number and frequency of past explosive eruptions at Corbetti has been unknown, due to limited studies of frequently incomplete and patchy outcrop sequences. Here we use volcanic ash layers preserved in sediments from three Main Ethiopian Rift lakes to provide the first detailed record of volcanism for the Corbetti caldera. We show that lake sediments yield more comprehensive, stratigraphically-resolved dossiers of long-term volcanism than often available in outcrop. Our eruptive history for Corbetti spans the last 10 k.y. and reveals eruptions at an average return period of ~900 years. The threat posed by Corbetti has, until now, been underestimated. Future explosive eruptions, similar to those of the past 10 k.y. would blanket nearby Awassa and Shashamene, currently home to ~260,000 people, with pumice fall deposits and would have significant societal impacts. A lake sediment tephrostratigraphic approach shows significant potential for application throughout the East African Rift system, and will be essential to better understanding volcanic hazards in this rapidly developing region.