Is Mount Everest a Volcano? Will it Erupt?

Can you imagine the devastation if Mount Everest was a volcano, and it erupted? The whole of China and India could be covered in lava! Fortunately, this is unlikely to happen. And here’s why:

Mount Everest is not a volcano, instead it is a mountain made of sedimentary layers of rock. So the summit of Mount Everest once lay at the bottom of the Tethys Sea, hundreds of millions of years ago.

So Mount Everest cannot erupt, as it isn’t a volcano. But it is just possible that the top could fall off. Read more to find out.

Is Mount Everest Volcanic in Nature?

Mount Everest isn’t a volcano, instead, it’s a pile of layers and layers of rocky sediments like sand, all compressed together at the bottom of an ancient sea. These sediments had been eroded away from far older mountains, then swept to the bottom of the Tethys Sea.

225 million years ago India was a separate island off Australia, heading towards Asia at around 9 to 16 cms a year under the influence of tectonic drift. When India collided with Asia the sedimentary layer between the land masses crumpled and reared up in a great mass like a rucked carpet.

That’s what we call the Himalayas (Source: Geolsoc).

I once met Professor Mike Searle fossicking among the rocks on my way up to Advance Base Camp on the North Tibetan side of the mountain. I subsequently had long chats with him about the geology of the Himalayas.

As professor of earth sciences at Oxford University, Mike Searle is the recognised expert on the subject of the rocks that make up Mount Everest. He says:

“The summit rocks are Ordovician limestones with tiny fragments of crinoid ossicles, it’s like a limey mudstone. The Yellow Band is a metamorphosed limestone, so marble, and Everest-series black schists are metamorphic – i.e. have biotite black mica, muscovite white micas and metamorphic minerals in. We have a good collection from the summit to the South Col.”

Professor Mike Searle
Volcano erupting
This image is of Tungurahua Volcano erupting at night. You can imagine how scary Everest would be if it were a volcano.

Will Mount Everest Ever Erupt?

Mount Everest cannot erupt, as it isn’t a volcano. But in theory, the top could fall off, and here’s why:

As we have seen there is a well-defined layer of sedimentary rock near the summit of Everest called the Yellow Band (source: If another violent super-earthquake should happen, such at the one which struck the Everest region in 2016, a number of events could take place.

The earthquake would collapse the brick temples of Durbar Square in Kathmandu as others had done several times before over the last thousand years. But if the epicentre was somewhere near Mount Everest the violent forces released beneath the Himalayan crest could burst the natural dam retaining the waters of Imja Tsho, a glacial lake next to Island Peak.

The resulting flood would sweep down the valley towards the plains.

But the most dramatic effect could be on the world’s highest mountain. Shaken from side to side like a giant wedding cake , Mountain Everest could slowly fracture along a line below the Yellow Band at around 8300 metres.

The entire top of the mountain would slide off the lower stratum like the top of the cake, and pour down the Kangshung face. And buried under a cubic mile of rubble would be any unfortunate climbers on the mountain.

If the top of Everest should fall off like this the mountain would suddenly be only the 8th highest in the world.

K2, a far harder mountain to climb would then be the highest in the world!

What if Mount Everest Were a Volcano?

If Mount Everest were an erupting volcano and you were on the summit you would be instantly vaporized. And that would be just the beginning of your problems. Apart from the devastation to the surrounding countries of Tibet, Nepal, Bhutan, India and China, millions of tons of ash would be ejected into the stratosphere, blocking out the sun.

This would precipitate a volcanic winter for many years, causing crops to fail. Temperatures would fall ten degrees. Humans would run out of food within months, causing mass famine and die-off. Looking on the bright side, this would instantly solve the global warming problem.

And in case you think we’re safe from Mount Everest exploding, think again. America’s super-volcano, Yellowstone, is way overdue. Buy a shedload of beans, and brace yourself….

Was Everest a Volcano in the Past? Is it Just Dormant or Extinct?

Some people think just because it’s not a volcano now, it may have been years ago….

Mount Everest has never been a volcano, even an extinct volcano. It was formed by the Indo-Australian and Eurasian tectonic plates colliding. That resulted in the Himalayan range and Everest itself, which took hundreds of millions of years to grow to the height it is. And Everest is still growing!

Everest grows on average 4 mm (0.2”) a year or about 40 centimeters (16 inches) per century. Eventually, it will be too high to climb without oxygen, which is just possible today for superbly fit human individuals.

Is The Biggest Volcano Taller Than Everest?

The biggest and highest mountain in the Solar System is a volcano. Olympus Mons is an enormous shield volcano on the planet Mars. It is two and a half times higher than Everest, and covers an area the size of the Philippines.

And the largest volcano on earth is Mauna Loa on Hawai’i Big Island. It is a massive shield volcano constructed by millions of lava flows. It grew up from the seabed, thousands of feet underwater. When measured from the seabed to the top, the volcano measures more than 17,000 m (56,000 ft), twice the height of Everest!

Ever wondered how Everest was measured in the first place? Read more here.

About Graham Hoyland

Graham was the 15th Briton to Climb Mount Everest. He has spent over two years across nine expeditions to the mountain and is the author of Last Hours on Everest, the story of Mallory and Irvine's fatal ascent.