A caldera is a large, usually circular depression at the summit of a volcano formed when magma is withdrawn or erupted from a shallow underground magma reservoir. The removal of large volumes of magma may result in loss of structural support for the overlying rock, thereby leading to collapse of the ground and formation of a large depression. Calderas are different from craters, which are smaller, circular depressions created primarily by explosive excavation of rock during eruptions.

Facts and figures: The largest eruption of the 20th century from the Novarupta vent in the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes of Alaska, ejected about 12 cubic kilometers of magma and resulted in the formation of a caldera 3 km across. Amazingly, the caldera collapse didn't occur at the eruption vent, but 10 km away at Katmai, a stratovolcano! Apparently magma drained away from Katmai's magma reservoir to Novarupta's erupting vent.

Crater Lake caldera, Oregon, USA. Photo: J. Alean