Identifying Distinguishing Characteristics of Secondary Pyroclastic Density Currents

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Student Presentation

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Brittany Brand


Pyroclastic density currents (PDCs) are ground-hugging mixtures of volcanic particles and gas that travel down the slopes of erupting volcanoes. The combination of high velocities, high bulk densities (due to particles in the current) and high temperatures make PDCs the most dangerous and deadly hazard associated with explosive volcanism. Secondary explosive phenomenon associated with PDCs, such as inland-directed surges (e.g., Montserrat, 2003) and phreatic explosions (e.g., Mt St Helens 1980) can increase the area affected and duration of the hazard. However, little work has been done on distinguishing the deposits of secondary explosive phenomenon from primary phenomenon. Samples have been acquired from the 1980 Mt St Helens phreatic explosion crater deposits and the 2003 eruptive event at Montserrat where a PDC flowed into the ocean, causing an inland-directed surge (Edmonds and Herd, 2005. Geology 33.4:245-248). The samples will be analyzed via depositional characteristics, granulometry, componentry, microscopic analysis and scanning electron microscope imaging. We hypothesize that thermal cracking or vesicle distortion (e.g., compression or hindered expansion) may occur in hot pyroclasts that enter a body of water, leading to a difference between the ash textures of primary PDCs, phreatic surges and inland-directed surge deposits. Analyzing granulometry and componentry from parent flows and secondary flows may reveal distinguishing characteristics that will also constrain differences in segregation mechanisms of particles for each phenomenon. Determining distinguishing depositional characteristics of these secondary phenomena is important for assessing their occurrence during past eruptions and identifying conditions conducive to the formation of secondary explosions. This will result in the ability to make more accurate hazard maps for volcanoes prone to explosive activity.

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