The Largest Known Maars on Earth, Seward Peninsula, Northwest Alaska


  • James E. Begét
  • David M. Hopkins
  • Steven D. Charron



maar, permafrost, arctic, Alaska, hydromagmatic


The Espenberg Maars on the northern Seward Peninsula of Alaska were formed by a series of Pleistocene basaltic eruptions through thick permafrost. The maars were excavated as much as 300 m into older lithologies; ranging from 4 to 8 km in diameter, they are the four largest known maars on earth. Hydromagmatic eruptions which derive water from ground ice are evidently extremely explosive. The high heat capacity of ice in permafrost modulates the supply of water interacting with magma during the eruption, producing consistently low coolant-to-fuel ratios in an environment with a sustained, abundant water supply. The Espenberg Maars demonstrate that, under certain conditions, eruptions which involve the interaction of lava and permafrost are powerful enough to produce craters as large as small calderas.