The origin and evolution of breakouts in a cooling-limited rhyolite lava flow

Magnall, Nathan; James, Mike R.; Tuffen, Hugh; Vye-Brown, Charlotte; Schipper, C. Ian; Castro, Jonathan M.; Davies, Ashley Gerard. 2019 The origin and evolution of breakouts in a cooling-limited rhyolite lava flow. GSA Bulletin, 131 (1-2). 137-154.

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Understanding lava flow processes is important for interpreting existing lavas and for hazard assessments. Although substantial progress has been made for basaltic lavas our understanding of silicic lava flows has seen limited recent advance. In particular, the formation of lava flow breakouts, which represent a characteristic process in cooling-limited basaltic lavas, but has not been described in established models of rhyolite emplacement. Using data from the 2011–2012 rhyolite eruption of Puyehue-Cordón Caulle, Chile, we develop the first conceptual framework to classify breakout types in silicic lavas, and to describe the processes involved in their progressive growth, inflation, and morphological change. By integrating multi-scale satellite, field, and textural data from Cordón Caulle, we interpret breakout formation to be driven by a combination of pressure increase (from local vesiculation in the lava flow core, as well as from continued supply via extended thermally preferential pathways) and a weakening of the surface crust through lateral spreading and fracturing. Small breakouts, potentially resulting more from local vesiculation than from continued magma supply, show a domed morphology, developing into petaloid as inflation increasingly fractures the surface crust. Continued growth and fracturing results in a rubbly morphology, with the most inflated breakouts developing into a cleft-split morphology, reminiscent of tumulus inflation structures seen in basalts. These distinct morphological classes result from the evolving relative contributions of continued breakout advance and inflation. The extended nature of some breakouts highlights the role of lava supply under a stationary crust, a process ubiquitous in inflating basalt lava flows that reflects the presence of thermally preferential pathways. Textural analyses of the Cordón Caulle breakouts also emphasize the importance of late-stage volatile exsolution and vesiculation within the lava flow. Although breakouts occur across the compositional spectrum of lava flows, the greater magma viscosity is likely to make late-stage vesiculation much more important for breakout development in silicic lavas than in basalts. Such late-stage vesiculation has direct implications for hazards previously recognized from silicic lava flows, enhancing the likelihood of flow front collapse, and explosive decompression of the lava core.

Item Type: Publication - Article
Digital Object Identifier (DOI):
ISSN: 0016-7606
Date made live: 01 Feb 2019 14:43 +0 (UTC)

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