A sequence of ash layers recovered from site 178 of the Deep Sea Drilling Project in the Gulf of Alaska was studied to determine the nature of highly explosive volcanic eruptions associated with the Aleutian Arc and Alaskan Peninsula during the last 8 m.y. The major-element chemistry of 25 distinct ash layers was determined. When the analyses are plotted on conventional major-element variation diagrams, the unusual, highly evolved, calc-alkalic characteristics of the ashes are apparent. Perhaps more significantly, there is a good correlation of certain indices of the degree of chemical evolution of each ash (SiO2 content and Larsen index) with sample age. Both parameters vary cyclically, with maximum values of both indices occurring at present, 2.5, and about 5.0 m.y. ago. The cause of the cyclic activity, as well as discontinuous volcanic activity reported for other areas by other investigators, is not precisely known. However, we suggest that variable rates of subduction provide a viable hypothesis for discontinuous volcanic activity associated with convergent plate boundaries.