The characteristics of coignimbrite deposits and inferences for their formation
Abstract:Coignimbrite deposits form as fine-grained ash (< 250 microns) is lofted into the atmosphere from the top of pyroclastic density currents, producing convective plumes. Such material can be transported over continental sized areas and the fine-grained nature of this ash means that it poses great hazard, in respect to health, infrastructure and air traffic. To date, few coignimbrite deposits have been studied in detail, mainly due to their poor preservation potential, and difficulty distinguishing these deposits from Plinian deposits. As such, there is little in the published record regarding the physical characteristics of coignimbrite deposits.
Deposits from Lago Grande di Monticchio, a maar lake 120 km east of the Campanian Volcanic Zone, Italy were analysed for this study. These lake sediments contain more than 340 distinct tephra layers, of which more than 300 are thought to have originated from the Campanian region. The physical characteristics of deposits from eruptions from within the past 50 kyrs are studied with particular emphasis placed on those with a known pyroclastic density current phase. Results show that in most cases, stratigraphy is comparable to proximal stratigraphy, and in the case of the Campanian Ignimbrite (Phlegrean Fields, 39.3 ka) and Monte Epomeo Green Tuff (Ischia, 55 ka) particularly, the coignimbrite contribution is easily identified. These coignimbrite deposits are composed of glass shards, with very small lithic and expanded pumice contents. Grainsize data from these coignimbrite events show remarkably similar characteristics, typically described by a very fine-grained mode (~50 microns), and poor sorting. This fine grain size implicates aggregation as the dominant process by which this ash is deposited. Similar trends are identified in the literature, for different types and scales of eruptions indicating the grainsize of these deposits is controlled by current dynamics rather than primary eruptive conditions at the vent. The results highlight the importance of lacustrine environments for deciphering eruption dynamics, specifically those from coignimbrite forming events. In addition, the distinct difference in grainsize trends between Plinian and coignimbrite events highlights the need to model coignimbrite events and ash dispersal separately from Plinian events.