Surface degassing and modifications to vesicle size distributions in active basalt flows

Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research
By: , and 



The character of the vesicle population in lava flows includes several measurable parameters that may provide important constraints on lava flow dynamics and rheology. Interpretation of vesicle size distributions (VSDs), however, requires an understanding of vesiculation processes in feeder conduits, and of post-eruption modifications to VSDs during transport and emplacement. To this end we collected samples from active basalt flows at Kilauea Volcano: (1) near the effusive Kupaianaha vent; (2) through skylights in the approximately isothermal Wahaula and Kamoamoa tube systems transporting lava to the coast; (3) from surface breakouts at different locations along the lava tubes; and (4) from different locations in a single breakout from a lava tube 1 km from the 51 vent at Pu'u ‘O’o.

Near-vent samples are characterized by VSDs that show exponentially decreasing numbers of vesicles with increasing vesicle size. These size distributions suggest that nucleation and growth of bubbles were continuous during ascent in the conduit, with minor associated bubble coalescence resulting from differential bubble rise. The entire vesicle population can be attributed to shallow exsolution of H2O-dominated gases at rates consistent with those predicted by simple diffusion models. Measurements of H2O, CO2 and S in the matrix glass show that the melt equilibrated rapidly at atmospheric pressure.

Down-tube samples maintain similar VSD forms but show a progressive decrease in both overall vesicularity and mean vesicle size. We attribute this change to open system, “passive” rise and escape of larger bubbles to the surface. Such gas loss from the tube system results in the output of 1.2 × 106 g/day SO2, an output representing an addition of approximately 1% to overall volatile budget calculations. A steady increase in bubble number density with downstream distance is best explained by continued bubble nucleation at rates of 7–8/cm3s. Rates are ∼25% of those estimated from the vent samples, and thus represent volatile supersaturations considerably less than those of the conduit. We note also that the small total volume represented by this new bubble population does not: (1) measurably deplete the melt in volatiles; or (2) make up for the overall vesicularity decrease resulting from the loss of larger bubbles.

Surface breakout samples have distinctive VSDs characterized by an extreme depletion in the small vesicle population. This results in samples with much lower number densities and larger mean vesicle sizes than corresponding tube samples. Similar VSD patterns have been observed in solidified lava flows and are interpreted to result from either static (wall rupture) or dynamic (bubble rise and capture) coalescence. Through comparison with vent and tube vesicle populations, we suggest that, in addition to coalescence, the observed vesicle populations in the breakout samples have experienced a rapid loss of small vesicles consistent with ‘ripening’ of the VSD resulting from interbubble diffusion of volatiles. Confinement of ripening features to surface flows suggests that the thin skin that forms on surface breakouts may play a role in the observed VSD modification.

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Surface degassing and modifications to vesicle size distributions in active basalt flows
Series title Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research
DOI 10.1016/0377-0273(94)00015-8
Volume 61
Issue 1-2
Year Published 1994
Language English
Publisher Elsevier
Contributing office(s) Volcano Hazards Program
Description 24 p.
First page 45
Last page 68
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