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Complex styles of phreatomagmatic explosions at Kīlauea Volcano, Hawaii, controlled by magma structure

August 24, 2023

Explosive eruptions at basaltic volcanoes remain poorly understood. Kīlauea Volcano is a type locality for basaltic eruptions and is well-known for effusive activity. However, more than 7 m of phreatomagmatic Keanakākoʻi Tephra unit D deposits from explosive eruptions crown the southern rim of the summit caldera and provide a stark reminder of Kīlauea’s explosive past and future potential. We used detailed field observations as well as granulometric and morphological analysis of 100 samples from two proximal sections to assess the eruption style and fragmentation mechanism. The deposits can be divided into four subunits, six different lithofacies, and contain three juvenile tephra components. Each juvenile component shows distinct shape variability resulting from molten fuel-coolant interaction (MFCI) explosions of magma of variable vesicularity. Fragmentation of dense glass generates olive-green ash, fragmentation of low to moderately vesicular magma generates a dark gray ash-lapilli component, and fragmentation of highly vesicular magma generates light-yellow pumice. Our work shows that magma structure impacts MFCI explosion efficiency. Small-scale planar bedding throughout most of the deposit points to a general eruption style of small, frequent explosions generating low plumes. Thicker beds of accretionary lapilli of fine-extremely fine ash are related to very efficient magma-water mixing. Pyroclastic density current (PDC) deposits in the upper part of the stratigraphy contain at least three flows but show no significant dune or cross-bedding structures. We suggest that this is a function of the vent being situated in a caldera that was then ∼600 m deep, where the caldera wall acted as a barrier and changed the flow dynamics to very dilute overspills and co-PDC plume falls over the wall. Deconvolution modeling of the polymodal grain size distributions is used to assess grain size changes of each juvenile component for this deposit, which greatly improves interpretation of lithofacies generation and eruption dynamics. Size-correlated shape parameters show that shape data across a wide size range are needed to accurately track grain shapes. This study demonstrates how careful examination of grain size and shape of juvenile tephra clasts can help volcanologists understand how effusive basaltic volcanoes can become violently explosive.

Publication Year 2023
Title Complex styles of phreatomagmatic explosions at Kīlauea Volcano, Hawaii, controlled by magma structure
DOI 10.3389/feart.2023.1153288
Authors Jo Schmith, Donald A. Swanson
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Frontiers in Earth Science - Volcanology
Index ID 70251919
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Volcano Science Center