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The hydromagmatic eruption that immediately preceded the 1968 caldera collapse of Fernandina Volcano, Galápagos, which had a volcano explosivity index (VEI) of 4, offers a case study of powerful eruptions where basaltic magma interacts with caldera-ponded water. The 4-d-long hydromagmatic eruption sequence records an early stage and a small fraction of the volume of magmatic withdrawal that led the caldera floor to lower 350 m over the next 10 d. Erupted tephra was lithic-rich. The small proportion of juvenile basaltic glass included blocky fragments, Pele’s tears, and Pele’s hair. Pyroclastic density currents swept across the western summit plateau 600–700 m above the vent and deposited dunes, cross-bedded and rubbly breccia deposits, imbricated lag blocks, and ash plasters, and toppled trees. Blocks ejected out of the caldera formed impact craters on the volcano’s flank >600 m higher and >1 km away. Ejected blocks are mostly basalt but include cumulate olivine gabbro. The vent area enlarged by 300 × 106 m3 during the eruption. A small adjacent fault-bounded block subsided after the eruption. Lake water and groundwater confined within the caldera by ring dikes were available to interact with hot rocks and magma. In our interpretation, this water helped to trigger and feed the eruption by interacting with rocks above a lowering magma column. Ecosystems recovered rapidly on the tephra. Eruptions have not diminished the island’s biodiversity despite Fernandina’s high rate of volcanic activity, including the massive resurfacing in 1968. Stratigraphic evidence suggests that the 1968 eruption may be only the latest in a series of explosive eruptions from the caldera.

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