The exposed Mule Creek vent deposits record the structure of a volcanic conduit during a hybrid explosive–effusive eruption

Unwin, Holly E. and Tuffen, Hugh and Wadsworth, Fabian B. and Phillips, Emrys R. and James, Mike R. and Foster, Annabelle and Kolzenburg, Stephan and Castro, Jonathan M. and Porritt, Lucy A. (2023) The exposed Mule Creek vent deposits record the structure of a volcanic conduit during a hybrid explosive–effusive eruption. Bulletin of Volcanology, 85 (5). ISSN 0258-8900

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Silicic volcanic eruptions commonly begin with the explosive ejection of pyroclastic material, before transitioning to gentler effusion-dominated activity. Well-exposed dissected silicic systems are scarce and poorly studied, hindering the advances in our understanding of the explosive–effusive transition needed to improve interpretations of volcanic unrest and hazard forecasting. The Mule Creek vent (New Mexico, USA) is a dissected silicic conduit that records the processes controlling conduit formation and evolution, and the role tuffisites (fractures filled with variably welded pyroclasts) play in conduit dynamics. Here, we use decimeter-scale photo-mapping of lithostratigraphic units and thin section analysis to differentiate and interpret three dominant emplacement styles during vent evolution. First, there was repeated deposition and erosion of pyroclastic material at the conduit walls, recorded by erosive surfaces in pyroclastic breccia and agglomerates at the conduit margins. Second, sub-vertical domains of dense melt-dominated magma were emplaced and preserved as glass-dominated vitrophyre and brecciated vitrophyre, with the textural hallmarks of assembly from welding of pyroclasts. Finally, the sub-horizontal fracturing of previously deposited lithologies produced laterally cross-cutting tuffisites. The vent deposits track the widening and then narrowing of the conduit through time and reflect progressive insulation and generally higher temperatures towards the conduit center as pyroclasts accumulate. Welding of pyroclastic fill and the formation of dense vitrophyres towards the conduit center lowers deposit porosity and effective wall permeability. This drives localized gas pressure increases and results in gas-driven fracturing, generating tuffisites, which act as transient outgassing pathways. The structure of the Mule Creek vent records an explosive–effusive transition, constraining the processes controlling conduit evolution and aiding our interpretation of volcanic unrest.

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Journal Article
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Bulletin of Volcanology
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25 Apr 2023 11:05
Last Modified:
16 Sep 2023 02:41