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Explosive origin of silicic lava: textural and δD–H2O evidence for pyroclastic degassing during rhyolite effusion

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  • Jonathan M. Castro
  • Ilya N. Bindeman
  • Hugh Tuffen
  • C. Ian Schipper
<mark>Journal publication date</mark>1/11/2014
<mark>Journal</mark>Earth and Planetary Science Letters
Number of pages10
Pages (from-to)52-61
Publication StatusPublished
<mark>Original language</mark>English


A long-standing challenge in volcanology is to explain why explosive eruptions of silicic magma give way to lava. A widely cited idea is that the explosive-to-effusive transition manifests a two-stage degassing history whereby lava is the product of non-explosive, open-system gas release following initial explosive, closed-system degassing. Direct observations of rhyolite eruptions indicate that effusive rhyolites are in fact highly explosive, as they erupt simultaneously with violent volcanic blasts and pyroclastic fountains for months from a common vent. This explosive and effusive overlap suggests that pyroclastic processes play a key role in rendering silicic magma sufficiently degassed to generate lava. Here we use precise H-isotope and magmatic H2O measurements and textural evidence to demonstrate that effusion results from explosion(s)—lavas are the direct product of brittle deformation that fosters batched degassing into transient pyroclastic channels (tuffisites) that repetitively and explosively vent from effusing lava. Our measurements show, specifically that D/H ratios and H2O contents of a broad suite of explosive and effusive samples from Chaitén volcano (hydrous bombs, Plinian pyroclasts, tuffisite veins, and lava) define a single and continuous degassing trend that links wet explosive pyroclasts (∼1.6 wt.% H2O, δD=−76.4‰) to dry obsidian lavas (∼0.13 wt.% H2O, δD=−145.7‰). This geochemical pattern is best fit with batched degassing model that comprises small repeated closed-system degassing steps followed by pulses of vapour extraction. This degassing mechanism is made possible by the action of tuffisite veins, which, by tapping already vesicular or brecciated magma, allow batches of exsolved gas to rapidly and explosively escape from relatively isolated closed-system domains and large tracts of conduit magma by giving them long-range connectivity. Even though tuffisite veins render magma degassed and capable of effusing, they are nonetheless the avenues of violent gas and particle transport and thus have the potential to drive explosions when they become blocked or welded shut. Thus the effusion of silicic lava, traditionally thought to be relatively benign process, presents a particularly hazardous form of explosive volcanism.