Decade Volcano: Teide

Huge mountains rise out of the Atlantic Ocean. Teide Volcano, at 12,200 feet, is the highest of them all.

Add in the roughly 10,000 additional feet of this Canary Islands giant that are hidden by the waves, and Teide becomes the third tallest volcanic complex on Earth (after Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea in Hawaii).

“Complex” is a very appropriate word for this volcano.

While it certainly fits the stereotype of being tall and pointy, Teide doesn’t dominate its landscape from all angles the way most stratovolcanoes do.

From space, Teide is actually dwarfed by the 6 x 11-mile-wide caldera that it sits in — a gigantic hole in the island of Tenerife called Las Canadas Caldera.

NASA Earth Observatory

Experts can’t agree on whether Las Canadas truly is a caldera formed by colossal eruptions, or a scar left by big landslides in the past, or perhaps a combination of these two processes.

The floor of Las Canadas has been covered by lava flows from many vents at Teide and Pico Viejo — the smaller, crater-topped peak on Teide’s flank — over the last 30,000 years.

Tenerife, cobbled together by Nature. Yes, that *is* Las Canadas Ca!dera. (Image: Wikimedia, public domain)

The island hosting these dramatic features is itself a mashup of overlapping stratovolcanoes going back millions of years to the Miocene.

So, sorting through the rocky archives here is challenging.

And just to complicate things further, there are good geological reasons why Tenerife and the other Canary Islands shouldn’t exist at all. (Carracedo et al.)

Still, there they are and experts are busy trying to explain why.

Such arcane scientific debates do have meaning for the rest of us.

  • Millions of tourists visit the Canary Islands and Teide every year. Rule #1 in assessing the volcanic risk these people and Canary Islanders face is to have some idea of what lit up the fire mountain in the first place.

    Even now, twenty years after the Decade Volcano program, that’s not very well understood yet.

  • Don’t forget the potential for giant landslides. If a Las Canadas-sized event ever does happen suddenly, with or without an eruption, the resulting tsunami waves could damage Atlantic coasts of four continents as well as ravage nearby islands and other Atlantic archipelagos.

All in all, Teide was an excellent candidate for both Decade Volcano and European Laboratory Volcano studies during the 1990s.

Today, there are still more questions than answers, but Newhall reports that the Decade Volcano program did lead to the development of tools to map volcanic hazards and get started on planning for an eruption.

This probably came in handy during an episode of unrest in 2004, when increased seismicity, and other indicators showing magma movement underground, led to a first-level civil protection alert.

That activity didn’t lead to an eruption, though, and the sense of urgency faded.

So has living memory of the last eruption on Tenerife, a relatively small but explosive event at Chinyero Vent in 1909.

Today, more than 200,000 people live in the area that was affected in 1909. (MultiTeide)

And Tenerife still has no formal volcano emergency plan, although one has been mandated by law since 1996. (Perez)

Volcanologists continue to keep a close watch on Teide, trying to understand its current status as well as hoping to identify clear signals that might give advance warning of an eruption. (Pinto)


28.271° N, 16.641° W, in Santa Cruz de Tenerife Province, Canary Islands, Spain. The GVP lists this as “Tenerife” and gives it a Volcano Number of 383030.

Nearby Population:

Per the Global Volcanism Program, and not counting tourists:

  • Within 5 km (3 miles): 0
  • Within 10 km (6 miles): 156
  • Within 30 km (19 miles): 337,660
  • Within 100 km (62 miles): 766,276

Current Status:

No deformation or other changes are noted in the latest bulletin (Spanish).


When “red lava” meets snow, there can be explosions and pyroclastic flows. (Image: Puusterke, via Wikimedia, CC BY-SA 4.0)

  • Eruption styles: Canary Island volcanoes show a puzzling diversity in magma and eruption types.

    Per WOVO, eruptions can be “red lava” basalt flows or they may produce high-silica lava that forms domes and explosive blasts more typical of subduction-zone volcanoes like Colima and Mount St. Helens (no subduction zone is present at the Canaries). The “red lava” can be explosive, too, especially if water is present.

    At Teide and Pico Viejo, Marti et al. (2008a) suggest that interactions between two shallow magma chambers can produce “red lava,” high-silica lava, and everything in between.

  • Biggest recorded event: It’s difficult for a layperson to be sure, given the geological complexity and amount of research papers on this. I think Teide’s largest historic explosive eruption happened at a vent on its eastern flank about two thousand years ago, building Montana Blanca and leaving 3-foot-deep light-colored ignimbrite deposits on the volcano’s flanks.

    The site of this ancient VEI 4 catastrophe is very scenic today:

    Teide’s 1798 “sneeze” at Pico Viejo was a VEI 3 eruption, though I don’t know if this was the largest effusive (“red lava”) eruption in history:

  • Most recent eruption: The GVP lists the 1909 basaltic eruption at Chinyero vent as Tenerife’s last eruption. Carracedo et al. report that Teide’s summit eruption some 1,200 years ago, which built the present cone “hat,” was its last. The complex remains active, though, with occasional earthquake swarms, fumaroles, and other evidence of molten rock not very far from the surface.

    And of course you can go all the way up to the top! (Just don’t hit your head on the Moon.)

    This video maker, though, used modern technology for most of her journey.

  • Past history: See the GVP for details. Of note, Christopher Columbus probably saw the Boca Cangrejo cone in action while sailing past the island during his 1492 exploration voyage. (Carracedo et al.)


    Spain’s National Geographic Institute monitors all Canary Island volcanoes.

    In addition, they just completed a multi-year study at Teide in December 2019.

    (Both the above links are in Spanish.)

    Featured image: Mikadun/Shutterstock


    Some of these sources are in Spanish and were translated with either a browser or Google Translate online.

    Ancochea, E.; Huertas, M. J.; Cantagrel, J. M.; Coello, J.; and others. 1999. Evolution of the Cañadas edifice and its implications for the origin of the Cañadas Caldera (Tenerife, Canary Islands). Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research, 88(3): 177-199.

    Anguita, F., and Hernán, F. 2000. The Canary Islands origin: a unifying model. (Abstract only) Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research, 103(1-4): 1-26.

    Brown, S.K.; Jenkins, S.F.; Sparks, R.S.J.; Odbert, H.; and Auker, M. R. 2017. Volcanic fatalities database: analysis of volcanic threat with distance and victim classification. Journal of Applied Volcanology, 6: 15.

    Carracedo, J. C.; Badiola, E. R.; Guillou, H.; Paterne, M.; and others. 2007. Eruptive and structural history of Teide Volcano and rift zones of Tenerife, Canary Islands. Geological Society of America Bulletin, 119(9-10): 1027-1051.

    Carracedo, J. C., and Troll, V. R. 2013. Structural and Geological Elements of Teide Volcanic Complex: Rift Zones and Gravitational Collapses, section 4.5, retrieved from Google Books at

    Garcia, A.: Vila, J.; Ortiz, R.; Macia, R.; and others. 2006. Monitoring the reawakening of Canary Islands’ Teide Volcano: EOS Transactions, American Geophysical Union, v. 87, no. 6, p. 61, 65.

    Global Volcanism Program, 2006. Report on Tenerife (Spain) (Wunderman, R., ed.). Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, 31:2. Smithsonian Institution.

    Hunt, J. E.; Wynn, R. B.; Talling, P. J.; and Masson, D. G. 2013. Multistage collapse of eight western Canary Island landslides in the last 1.5 Ma: Sedimentological and geochemical evidence from subunits in submarine flow deposits. Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems, 14(7): 2159-2181.

    IGN (National Geographic Institute of Spain and CNIG). 2020. Project MultiTeide. Last accessed June 24, 2020.

    Martí, J.; Geyer, A.; Andujar, J.; Teixidó, F.; and Costa, F. 2008. Assessing the potential for future explosive activity from Teide–Pico Viejo stratovolcanoes (Tenerife, Canary Islands). (Abstract only) Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research, 178(3): 529-542.

    Martí, J.; Aspinall, W. P.; Sobradelo, R.; Felpeto, A.; and others. 2008a. A long-term volcanic hazard event tree for Teide-Pico Viejo stratovolcanoes (Tenerife, Canary Islands). Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research, 178(3): 543-552.

    Masson, D. G.; Watts, A. B.; Gee, M. J. R.; Urgeles, R.; and others. 2002. Slope failures on the flanks of the western Canary Islands. Earth-Science Reviews, 57(1-2): 1-35.

    MultiTeide. 2016. New scientific study of the Cjinyero eruption (Tenerife). Last accessed June 17, 2020.

    Newhall, C. 1996. IAVCEI/International Council of Scientific Union’s Decade Volcano projects: Reducing volcanic disaster. status report. US Geological Survey, Washington, DC. Retrieved from

    Paris, R.; Bravo, J. J. C.; González, M. E. M.; Kelfoun, K.; and Nauret, F. 2017. Explosive eruption, flank collapse and megatsunami at Tenerife ca. 170 ka. Nature Communications, 8: 15246.

    Perez, V. 2020. Tenerife lacks a plan to act in the face of a volcanic emergency. Last accessed June 17, 2020.

    Pinto, T. 2016. Teide: 100 years waiting for an eruption. Last accessed June 17, 2020.

    Wikipedia. 2020. Teide. Last accessed June 17, 2020.

    Wikipedia (Spanish). 2020. Teide. Last accessed June 17, 2020.

    WOVO (World Organization of Volcano Observatories). 2008. Canary Island Volcano Monitoring Program. Last accessed June 17, 2020.

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