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Explosive volcanism on Mercury: analysis of vent and deposit morphology and modes of eruption

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal article

<mark>Journal publication date</mark>1/03/2018
Number of pages22
Pages (from-to)191-212
Early online date8/11/17
<mark>Original language</mark>English


The MESSENGER mission revealed, for the first time, conclusive evidence of explosive volcanism on Mercury. Several previous works have cataloged the appearance and location of explosive volcanism on the planet using a variety of identifying characteristics, including vent presence and deposit color as seen in multispectral image mosaics. We present here a comprehensive catalog of vents of likely volcanic origin; our classification scheme emphasizes vent morphology. We have analyzed the morphologies of all vents in our catalog, and recognize three main morphologies: “simple vent”, “pit vent”, and “vent-with-mound”. The majority of vents we identify are located within impact craters. The spatial distribution of vents does not correlate with the locations of volcanic smooth plains deposits, in contrast to the Moon, nor do vents correlate with the locations of large impact basins (except for the Caloris and Tolstoj basins). Using the degradation state of the vent host crater as a proxy for maximum age, we suggest that vent formation has been active through the Mansurian and into the Kuiperian periods, although the majority of vents were likely formed much earlier in mercurian history. The morphologies and locations of vents are used to investigate a set of plausible formation geometries. We find that the most likely and most prevalent formation geometry is that of a dike, stalled at depth, which then explosively vents to the surface. We compare the vent and deposit size of mercurian pyroclastic deposits with localized and regional lunar pyroclastic deposits, and find a range of possible eruption energies and corresponding variations in eruption style. Localized lunar pyroclastic deposits and the majority of mercurian pyroclastic deposits show evidence for eruption that is consistent with the magmatic foam at the top of a dike reaching a critical gas volume fraction. A subset of mercurian vents, including the prominent Copland-Rachmaninoff vent to the northeast of the Rachmaninoff basin, indicates eruption at enhanced gas volume fractions. This subset of vents shows a similar eruptive behavior to the lunar Orientale dark mantle ring deposit, suggesting that the dikes that formed these vents and deposits on Mercury underwent some form of additional volatile build-up either through crustal volatile incorporation or magma convection within the dike. There also exists a population of mercurian vents that no longer retain a visible associated pyroclastic deposit; we hypothesize that the visible signature of the pyroclastic deposit has been lost through space weathering and regolith mixing processes. Together, these results provide a comprehensive analysis of explosive volcanism on Mercury, and inform continued research on the thermal history of Mercury and magma composition and evolution.

Bibliographic note

This is the author’s version of a work that was accepted for publication in Icarus. Changes resulting from the publishing process, such as peer review, editing, corrections, structural formatting, and other quality control mechanisms may not be reflected in this document. Changes may have been made to this work since it was submitted for publication. A definitive version was subsequently published in Icarus, 302, 2018 DOI: 10.1016/j.icarus.2017.11.011