Conduit speed limit promotes formation of explosive `super slugs'

Thursday, 18 December 2014: 9:45 AM
Edward W Llewellin, University of Durham, Earth Sciences, Durham, United Kingdom, Michael Richard Burton, INGV National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology, Rome, Italy, Heidy M Mader, University of Bristol, School of Earth Sciences, Bristol, United Kingdom and Margherita Polacci, INGV, Pisa, Italy
Strombolian activity – characterized by discrete, impulsive explosions – is common at basaltic volcanoes. The explosions are caused by the arrival, at the volcanic vent, of over-pressured `slugs' of magmatic gas, which have ascended the volcanic conduit. We present data from large-scale analogue experiments which reveal a previously-undescribed process which promotes the formation of large, highly over-pressured `super slugs'. We propose that these large slugs may drive the most violent Strombolian eruptions.

Experiments were performed at the Large Analogue Volcano Apparatus at Durham University, UK, which comprises a 13m tall, 24cm diameter transparent conduit, surmounting a reservoir of analogue magma held at constant pressure. We simulate a vesiculation event deep in the sub-volcanic plumbing system by fluxing gas into the reservoir. Magma analogues with a range of viscosities are used, giving slug Reynolds numbers in the range 16 to 140,000. At moderate-to-high Reynolds number, we find that the gas rapidly self-organizes to form a conduit-filling lead slug; this slug ascends the column slowly, at a velocity limited by the flux of the falling film of liquid around it. Trailing bubbles, which ascend through the wake of the lead slug, rise much more rapidly. As they catch and coalesce with the lead slug, it grows and becomes increasingly over-pressured. This mechanism causes large slugs to form rapidly and we propose that it underpins the formation of the very large slugs that are responsible for the most explosive strombolian eruptions.