Skip Links

USGS - science for a changing world

U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 1762

Volcanic Processes and Geology of Augustine Volcano, Alaska

By Richard B. Waitt and James E. Begét


Thumbnail of and link to report PDF (101 MB)

Augustine Island (volcano) in lower Cook Inlet, Alaska, has erupted repeatedly in late-Holocene and historical times. Eruptions typically beget high-energy volcanic processes. Most notable are bouldery debris avalanches containing immense angular clasts shed from summit domes. Coarse deposits of these avalanches form much of Augustine’s lower flanks. A new geologic map at 1:25,000 scale depicts these deposits, these processes. We correlate deposits by tephra layers calibrated by many radiocarbon dates.

Augustine Volcano began erupting on the flank of a small island of Jurassic clastic-sedimentary rock before the late Wisconsin glaciation (late Pleistocene). The oldest known effusions ranged from olivine basalt explosively propelled by steam, to highly explosive magmatic eruptions of dacite or rhyodacite shed as pumice flows. Late Wisconsin piedmont glaciers issuing from the mountainous western mainland surrounded the island while dacitic eruptive debris swept down the south volcano flank.

Evidence is scant for eruptions between the late Wisconsin and about 2,200 yr B.P. On a few south-flank inliers, thick stratigraphically low pumiceous pyroclastic-flow and fall deposits probably represent this period from which we have no radiocarbon dates on Augustine Island. Eruptions between about 5,350 and 2,200 yr B.P. we know with certainty by distal tephras. On Shuyak Island 100 km southeast of Augustine, two distal fall ashes of Augustinian chemical provenance (microprobe analysis of glass) date respectively between about 5,330 and 5,020 yr B.P. and between about 3,620 and 3,360 yr B.P. An Augustine ash along Kamishak Creek 70 km southwest of Augustine dates between about 3,850 and 3,660 yr B.P. A probably Augustinian ash lying within peat near Homer dates to about 2,275 yr B.P.

From before 2,200 yr B.P. to the present, Augustine eruptive products abundantly mantle the island. During this period, numerous coarse debris avalanches swept beyond Augustine’s coast, most recently in A.D. 1883. The decapitated summit after the 1883 eruption, replaced by andesite domes of six eruptions since, shows a general process: collapse of steep summit domes, then the summit regrown by later dome eruptions. The island’s stratigraphy is based on six or seven coarse-pumice tephra “marker beds.” In upward succession they are layers G (2,100 yr B.P.), I (1,700 yr B.P.), H (1,400 yr B.P.), C (1,200–1,000 yr B.P.), M (750 yr B.P.), and B (390 yr B.P.).

A coarse, hummocky debris-avalanche deposit older than about 2,100 yr B.P.—or perhaps a stack of three of them—lies along the east coast, the oldest exposed such bouldery diamicts on Augustine Island. Two large debris avalanches swept east and southeast into the sea between about 2,100 and 1,800 yr B.P. A large debris avalanche shed east and east-northeast into the sea between 1,700 and 14,00 yr B.P.

Between about 1,400 and 1,100 yr B.P. debris avalanches swept into the sea on the volcano’s south, southwest, and north-northwest. Pumiceous pyroclastic fans spread to the southeast and southwest, lithic pyroclastic flows and lahars (?) to the south and southeast. Pyroclastic flows, pyroclastic surges, and lahars swept down the west and south flanks between about 1,000 and 750 yr B.P.

A debris avalanche swept into the sea on the west, and a small one on the south-southeast, between about 750 and 400 yr B.P. Large lithic pyroclastic flows shed to the southeast; smaller ones descended existing swales on the southwest and south.

Between about 400 yr B.P. and historical time (late 1770s), three debris avalanches swept into the sea on the west-northwest, north-northwest, and north flanks. One of them (West Island) was large and fast: most of it rode to sea far beyond a former sea cliff, and its surface includes geomorphic evidence of having initiating a tsunami. Augustine’s only conspicuous lava flow erupted on the north flank.

During this prehistoric period numerous domes grew at the volcano’s summit, remnants of which form the east and south sides of the present summit-dome complex. Three domes grew below the summit area on the upper south and northwest flanks. In between large eruptions that deposited coarse pumiceous fall beds, many smaller eruptions emplaced beds of sand-sized ash on the volcano flanks.

During the past 750 years, beach and back-beach eolian dunes accreted at the southwest coast, forming a ribbed coastwise topography. Lesser dunes grew at the backs of beaches in coves on other flanks.

An eruption in 1883 shed a debris avalanche swiftly into the sea on the north-northeast, followed by pyroclastic flows and surges. Eruptions in 1935 and 1963–64 grew summit domes that spilled over the southwest and south flanks and shed coarse rubbly lithic pyroclastic flows down those flanks. Eruptions and 1976 and 1986 grew domes that draped down the north flank and shed voluminous pyroclastic flows to the northeast through north-northwest flanks, when smaller pyroclastic flows and (or) lahars swept down other flanks. A small dome-building eruption in January-March 2006 after this report was all but complete we treat only fleetingly.

The largest debris avalanches sweep into the sea at Augustine’s coast at speeds inferred between 60 and 80 m/s. Augustine is capable of initiating damaging tsunami to lower Cook Inlet, but geologic evidence for them on the mainland is sporadic and sparse.

Front Cover: Photograph of en plein air painting by Josephine Crumrine from West Hills above Homer, Alaska, in July 1986 while viewing Augustine Volcano erupting 71 miles (113 km) away. Original oil on canvas hangs at Pratt Museum, Homer, Alaska. Image used by permission.

Also of Interest

USGS Data Series 677 (Database for Professional Paper 1762), Database for Volcanic Processes and Geology of Augustine Volcano, Alaska, by Jacqueline McIntire, David W. Ramsey, Evan Thoms, Richard B. Waitt, and James E. Begét (2012)

First posted September 13, 2009

Last updated November 27, 2012

  • This report is also available in print from:

    USGS Information Services, Box 25286,
    Federal Center, Denver, CO 80225
    telephone: 888 ASK-USGS; e-mail:

For additional information contact:
Alaska Science Center staff
U.S. Geological Survey
Anchorage, AK 99508
Alaska Volcano Observatory
Alaska Science Center

This report is presented in Portable Document Format (PDF); the latest version of Adobe Reader or similar software is required to view it. Download the latest version of Adobe Reader, free of charge.

Suggested citation:

Waitt, R.B., and Begét, J.E., 2009, Volcanic processes and geology of Augustine Volcano, Alaska: U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 1762, 78 p., 2 plates, scale 1:25,000.




Rock Type, Grain Size, Grain Shape


Synopsis of Geologic History

Pre-Augustine Mesozoic Rocks

Pleistocene to Late Holocene Materials

Prehistoric Deposits of Late Holocene Age

Historical Deposits

Comparison to Previous Geologic Map

Précis of Eruptions

High-Energy Flows From Insular Setting



References Cited

two plates

Accessibility FOIA Privacy Policies and Notices

Take Pride in America logo logo U.S. Department of the Interior | U.S. Geological Survey
Page Contact Information: GS Pubs Web Contact
Page Last Modified: Thursday, 01-Dec-2016 16:19:15 EST