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9-3 Flow or blow the volcanic dilemma

Volcanology at the LMU.

Now, if these things are about to break, because the pressure in the bubbles has risen so
high, that it's overcome the strength of these materials.
Then exactly how is that going to take place?
In other words, what properties are now in play?
It's certainly not the viscosity, which is going to control the failure of these materials.
They're beyond that now, they can no longer viscously deform.
Too much has been asked of them.
So what you see, in the next diagram, is a first estimate, which was obtained for the
strength of bubbly liquids using so-called synthetic fluid inclusion work.
We already presented the synthetic fluid inclusion work, in terms of the effect of water
on the glass transition temperature.
And we looked at the mixed-alkali effect, you may recall that, if you return now, in this
diagram, to the P-T diagram of what's going on in experiments with the fluid inclusions
in glass, you see at high pressure and high temperature an entrapment point.
You see the isobaric quench again as we already described.
And then you see the liquid and vapor curve, down in the lower left.
And, if we now heat these inclusions up the liquid and vapor curve, without any
protection of the external pressure, then what we see is that they decrepitate.
They actually crack open and bleed out the volatile phase which is inside.
And when they do that, we get a decrepitation temperature, which is on the liquid-vapor
co-existence curve.
And the liquid-vapor co-existence curve of water, and the phase diagram of water, is
defined for a pressure and a temperature.
So knowing the temperature, which decrepitation takes place, we know the pressure, the
pressure, which was in the fluid inclusion at the point where it broke.
And therefore we have an estimate of the strength of these bubbly liquids.
In the next diagram you see data for three different gas contents in these liquids.
You see water, CO2 and xenon.
Xenon chosen not because it's applicable directly to nature but because it has a very low
solubility, in these liquids.
You also see the results of the strength estimates from the fibre elongation studies on
the right hand side of this diagram.
And you see CO2-bearing samples, xenon- bearing samples and volatile-free samples.
All give a very similar value of strength of abut 10 to the two mega Pascals (MPa).
Well, what's happening with water?
It's about 10 to the zero or one mega Pascals, 100 times weaker.
Is it a chemical effect?
We don't think so, we think its physical effect.
First of all, the solubility of CO2, the solubility of xenon, we're down in ppms to 10s, to
100s of ppms in these samples, parts per million.
Very low (man), amounts of these gasses dissolved in the liquid.
Water, high solubility.
Several weight percent.
And we think this is the difference.
If you look at the next diagram, you see an example from a transmission electron
microscope (TEM) picture of the bubbles in these samples, where you have a series of
radial cracks, which are occurring around the bubble.
The white in the center is the bubble.
The black around is the glass.
And if you squint and look a little more closely, you see every one of these radial cracks
turns and becomes a concentric crack at a certain characteristic distance from the bubble
interface, and what's happening is that there are hoop stresses built up in these samples,
and there is dehydration which is occurring.
As we cool down along the isochore in these systems, and the dehydration means that
water is being pumped into the bubbles.
It's leaving the glass shock or skin around the bubbles.
And, because of several weight percent of water in these glasses, the effect of water on
volume is such that they want to contract. When we lose water out of the shock or rim
of these bubbles, they want to contract. They are not able to do it because they are held
by the matrix in the more water-rich liquid.
And as a result, cracks occur and they snap open.
And these cracks, when we reheat them, along the two-phase curve.
Of course, are making these samples far, far weaker than those samples which do not
contain any cracks.
All of this forces us into a new field of investigation, which, in my opinion today, is at
the heart of experimental volcanology.
It's at the heart of the controlled analysis of how explosions take place in volcanic
We have our old friend, the glass transition, plotted here.
The logarithm of relaxation time, or time scale versus reciprocal temperature.
And we have the two domains, the liquid on the upper left, the glass on the lower right.
We have a band running through the middle now, which depends upon chemistry, as
you know.
And in the case of volcanic materials, there are two major influences in it.
One is added water content, which pushes it to the right
One is added silica content which pushes it to the left.
And the location of this band defines for us where explosive volcanism can occur.
And based on that premise, based upon that theoretical, simple, first approximation of
what, we think is the locus of where fragmentation takes place in volcanoes, we
developed a whole new set of experiments, which I will briefly sketch to you, now in
the final part of today's contribution.
The next diagram is our experimental volcano.
It's in the basement of the university building that we work in, in Munich.
And you can see it's actually two sets of volcanoes.
Number one on the left, you can see exposed in this diagram.
You can see a large tank.
It's about three meters high.
It's a stainless steel tank, which is our atmosphere.
And below it you can see with a blue color a small furnace, which has been swung open
to show you inside a pressure bomb.
This is our magma chamber.
So we have the magma chamber below.
We have the atmosphere above.
And we essentially experimentally, simply by decompressing these samples, fragment,
produce volcanic ash, drive explosive volcanism at will, timed as we like it.
And therefore able to be investigated with a whole battery of techniques, which describe
in detail how this process takes place.
And just to give you a taste of the kind of results, which result from this, you can see in
the next diagram a plot of the fragmentation threshold.
The actual amount of over-pressure that we need to remove at the point of
decompression, and therefore, the point of fragmentation.
And you can see how much it takes for a very bubble-poor material.
It's about 30 Mega Pascals (MPa).
But if we go down to pumice of very high vesicularity of 60 or 70 percent of bubbles,
then it's only a tenth of that value.
It's only about three or four megaPascals.
So these materials are fairly weak in tensile strength.
And as we go to the right, to the high bubble contents, the weakness becomes more and
more extensive.
How fast does this whole process take place?
It's the last point for today.
Explosive volcanism, volcanic explosion, eruption, all of these words implies to you
that something very violent has taken place, that's undoubtedly the case.
It also implies that there's something very, very sharp and singular about what's going
But, we know that explosive eruptions can run for days.
They can run for weeks where there's a constant billowing out of exploded products, of
fragmented volcanic ash, bombs, pumice, blocks and so on.
In a way these simple two observations don't fit so easily together.
An explosion, and it's running for weeks.
What's going on?
But one key to possibly explain this is looking at the speed with which this
fragmentation, this disintegration of magma takes place.
When you look at it under well controlled laboratory conditions, you can see the speeds,
which we observe for the disintegration, for the propagation of the fragmentation front
through the magma in our experiments.
And look at the speeds.
Depending on the over pressure, 90 meters per second, 30 20, 15 meters per second.
Now this may sound fast to you, but these speeds actually are quite slow in comparison
to other things you would compare them with.
The speed of sound, through these materials, is 100 times faster.
So the actual decompression wave which comes through the sample is long gone by the
time this material slowly starts to disintegrate and starts to pull itself apart at 100 times
less the speed.
So, this is a process which is occurring at 10, 20, 30 meters per second.
We're down at a rate of meters per second, which is about where we think the ascent
rate of magma is.
Estimates from the kinetics of included phases and erupted products, diffusion profiles
on crystals, growth rims and reactions on hydrous phases that are dying as the liquid
comes up.
There are a whole array of petrologically based and geochemically based estimates of
how fast magma can come up.
There are also geophysical estimates just from listening, when it started moving until it
gets to the earth's surface.
And a lot of those techniques show ascent rates of the order of 10, 20 meters per second.
So, if you look in the final diagram for today, we try to drive home the point that I'm
making here.
Explosive? Yes.
Running for days, weeks? Yes.
Why? Because there's a constant supply from below of the material, which is ripe to be
Destroy a bit of it, more comes.
Destroy some more, more comes.
And as long as the speed with which magma can be delivered to the point of destruction
is the same as the speed with, which the excavation. of this magma takes place by
destruction, then the surface location, in terms of depth from the edge of the vent,
should stay more or less constant.
And it's this steady state of evacuating a deeper magma, which is allowing this
explosion to run and run and run and run.
And, ask yourself the question, why do the eruptions stop?
Not why they start, why do they stop?
It's at least as important a question when it comes to dealing with these volcanos,
because, of course, once an eruption starts, it's the question, what do I do, do I evacuate,
do I bring people into protected areas.
And that question has a lot to do with how much time do
I have to work with, and how long is this crisis going to run.
So, why do they stop?
In this simple scenario that I've given to you, there could be two basic possibilities.
Number one is, the fragmentation surface could go up.
Number two is, the fragmentation surface could choose to go down.
Well in so-called Volcanian explosions, which are the nearest thing we have to a, a one-
shot affair, clearly there is the case of an evacuation and a surface of fragmentation
going down catastrophically.
And this is because there is not a magma supply behind it which is able to hold it up.
So, it simply rips down into the magmatic architecture of the volcanic system and rips
out to a certain depth, until the conditions are no longer extant that the material is
suffering from a high pressure gradient and then it stops.
In the case of moving up, we do often see.
The end of explosive eruption which have thrown on ash for days and weeks with the
extrusion of a plug or a dome of lava.
It has exactly the same chemistry as the ash form last week, but it is sitting at the
And if you will, this is the extrusion of the fragmentation surface, which is now crept
So, in this case, the energy has somehow been dissipated for fragmentation.
And the supply from lava below has continued.
So, the rate of magma ascent has held out longer than the driving force for eroding and
fragmenting these systems.
And you bring the surface up to the surface, the earth's surface, and it stops.
In the Volcanian case, the case and the driving forces for explosion are far faster and
there is no magma supply, so it goes down.
And in the spectacular Plinian cases, which you have running for hours, days, weeks,
which have global impact, you have this delicate balance of supply from below and of
erosion from above.