Explosive volcanic eruptions — IV. The control of magma properties and conduit geometry on eruption column behaviour

Wilson, Lionel and Sparks, R. Stephen J. and Walker, George P.L. (1980) Explosive volcanic eruptions — IV. The control of magma properties and conduit geometry on eruption column behaviour. Geophysical Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society, 63 (1). pp. 117-148. ISSN 0016-8009

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Plinian air‐fall deposits and ignimbrites are the principal products of explosive eruptions of high viscosity magma. In this paper, the flow of gas/pyroclast dispersions and high viscosity magma through various magma chamber/conduit/vent geometries is considered. It is argued that after the first few minutes of an eruption magma fragmentation occurs at a shallow depth within the conduit system. Gas pressures at the fragmentation level are related to exsolved gas contents by consideration of the exsolution mechanism. The sizes of blocks found near vents imply that gas velocities of 200 to 600 m s−1 commonly occur. These velocities are greater than the effective speed of sound in an erupting mixture (90‐200 m s−1) and the transition from subsonic to supersonic flow is identified as occurring at the depth at which the conduit has its minimum diameter. The range of values of this minimum diameter (∼ 5 to ∼ 100 m) is estimated from observed and theoretically deduced mass‐eruption rates. The energy and continuity equations are solved, taking account of friction effects, for numerous geometries during the evolution, by wall erosion, of a conduit. Conduit erosion ceases, near the surface, when an exit pressure of one atmosphere is reached. Eruption velocities are found to depend strongly on exsolved magma gas content and weakly on radius of conduit and friction effects. Assuming water as the main volatile phase, velocities of 400‐600 m s−1 for plinian events imply magma water contents of 3‐6 per cent by weight. Three scenarios are presented of eruptions in which: (1) conduit radius increases but gas content remains constant; (2) conduit radius increases and gas content decreases with time; and (3) conduit radius remains fixed and gas content decreases. These models demonstrate that the reverse grading commonly observed in plinian air‐fall deposits is primarily a consequence of conduit erosion, which always results in increasing eruption intensity and eruption column height with time. The models also show that a decrease in gas content as deeper levels in a magma chamber are tapped or an increasing vent radius as conduit walls are eroded leads to the prediction of a progression from air‐fall activity through ignimbrite formation to cessation of eruption and caldera collapse.

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Journal Article
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Geophysical Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society
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16 Nov 2020 12:30
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23 Nov 2020 14:56