Mafic volcanic activity is dominated by effusive to mildly explosive eruptions. Plinian and ignimbrite-forming mafic eruptions, while rare, are also possible; however, the conditions that promote such explosivity are still being explored. Eruption style is determined by the ability of gas to escape as magma ascends, which tends to be easier in low-viscosity, mafic magmas. If magma permeability is sufficiently high to reduce bubble overpressure during ascent, volatiles may escape from the magma, inhibiting violent explosive activity. In contrast, if the permeability is sufficiently low to retain the gas phase within the magma during ascent, bubble overpressure may drive magma fragmentation. Rapid ascent may induce disequilibrium crystallization, increasing viscosity and affecting the bubble network with consequences for permeability, and hence, explosivity. To explore the conditions that promote strongly explosive mafic volcanism, we combine microlite textural analyses with synchrotron x-ray computed microtomography of 10 pyroclasts from the 12.6 ka mafic Curacautín Ignimbrite (Llaima Volcano, Chile). We quantify microlite crystal size distributions (CSD), microlite number densities, porosity, bubble interconnectivity, bubble number density, and geometrical properties of the porous media to investigate the role of magma degassing processes at mafic explosive eruptions. We use an analytical technique to estimate permeability and tortuosity by combing the Kozeny-Carman relationship, tortuosity factor, and pyroclast vesicle textures. The groundmass of our samples is composed of up to 44% plagioclase microlites, > 85% of which are < 10 µm in length. In addition, we identify two populations of vesicles in our samples: (1) a convoluted interconnected vesicle network produced by extensive coalescence of smaller vesicles (> 99% of pore volume), and (2) a population of very small and completely isolated vesicles (< 1% of porosity). Computed permeability ranges from 3.0 × 10−13 to 6.3 × 10−12 m2, which are lower than the similarly explosive mafic eruptions of Tarawera (1886; New Zealand) and Etna (112 BC; Italy). The combination of our CSDs, microlite number densities, and 3D vesicle textures evidence rapid ascent that induced high disequilibrium conditions, promoting rapid syn-eruptive crystallization of microlites within the shallow conduit. We interpret that microlite crystallization increased viscosity while simultaneously forcing bubbles to deform as they grew together, resulting in the permeable by highly tortuous network of vesicles. Using the bubble number densities for the isolated vesicles (0.1-3−3 × 104 bubbles per mm3), we obtain a minimum average decompression rate of 1.4 MPa/s. Despite the textural evidence that the Curacautín magma reached the percolation threshold, we propose that rapid ascent suppressed outgassing and increased bubble overpressures, leading to explosive fragmentation. Further, using the porosity and permeability of our samples, we estimated that a bubble overpressure > 5 MPa could have been sufficient to fragment the Curacautín magma. Other mafic explosive eruptions report similar disequilibrium conditions induced by rapid ascent rate, implying that syn-eruptive disequilibrium conditions may control the explosivity of mafic eruptions more generally.
The version of record of this article, first published in Bulletin of Volcanology, is available online at Publisher’s website: https://doi.org/10.1007/s00445-021-01514-8
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Valdivia, Pedro; Marshall, Aaron A.; Brand, Brittany D.; Manga, Michael; and Huber, Christian. (2022). "Mafic Explosive Volcanism at Llaima Volcano: 3D X-Ray Microtomography Reconstruction of Pyroclasts to Constrain Shallow Conduit Processes". Bulletin of Volcanology, 84(1), 2. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00445-021-01514-8