New Insights into Basaltic Balloon Formation during Submarine Eruptions

Monday, 15 December 2014
Steven Carey1, Joshua Kelly1, Mauro Rosi2, Marco Pistolesi3, Michael Marani4, Christopher Roman1 and Katherine Lynn Croff Bell5, (1)University of Rhode Island, Graduate School of Oceanography, Narragansett, RI, United States, (2)Italian Civil Protection, Roma, Italy, (3)University of Pisa, Pisa, Italy, (4)Istituto Geologia Marina-CNR, Bologna, Italy, (5)Ocean Exploration Trust, Narragansett, RI, United States
Remotely operated vehicle (ROV) explorations in the area of the 1891 Foerstner submarine eruption (Pantelleria, Italy) during cruise NA-018 of the E/V Nautilus has provided the first examination of the vent site of a basaltic balloon-forming eruption. Ultra high-resolution bathymetric mapping defined a mound-like vent morphology in water depths of ~250 meter, constructed dominantly of highly vesicular scoriaceous fragments with minor pillow lava flows. The formation of floating basaltic balloons that reached the surface of the Strait of Sicily during the eruption is attributed to a hybrid Strombolian eruption mechanism that involved pre-concentration of volatiles into gas-rich portions of magma beneath the vent. An important difference of this Strombolian mechanism compared to its subaerial counterpart is the occurrence of buoyant magma discharge in the submarine environment caused by localized high gas contents. The added buoyancy flux modifies the fluid dynamic configuration of magma venting on the seafloor allowing for detachment of highly-inflated parcels of gas-rich magma. Some of these parcels contain large gas cavities that are enveloped in a partially quenched shell and maintain sufficient buoyancy to rise to the sea surface as a basaltic balloon. The majority of the vesicular magma maintains only partial positive buoyancy or negative buoyancy and is explosively fragmented to form large quantities of decimeter-scale fragments that accumulate close to the vent. Formation of the basaltic balloons is thus considered a somewhat accidental process that involves a subset of the total erupted volume of magma during the eruption. Suitable conditions for balloon formation include low magma viscosity, pre-concentration of gas, and moderate pressures (i.e.water depth). The dampening effect of seawater greatly reduces the dispersal of pyroclasts resulting in a mound-like vent morphology compared to subaerial scoria cones typically associated with Strombolian activity.