Phreatomagmatic explosions of rhyolitic magma: Experimental and field evidence

A. Autin-Erickson, R. Büttner, P. Dellino, M. H. Ort, B. Zimanowski

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

69 Scopus citations


Experimental studies on explosive molten fuel-coolant interaction (MFCI) using basaltic melt compositions and water as the coolant have provided insight into the physical processes of basaltic and andesitic phreatomagmatic volcanism. Abundant field evidence indicates that rhyolitic and dacitic phreatomagmatism occurs in nature, but it has not been possible until now to generate laboratory MFCI explosions from the interaction between high-silica melts and water under laboratory conditions. The high viscosity of these melts apparently prevents formation of an effective hydrodynamic premix of melt and water, the documented precursor of experimental explosive MFCI caused by mafic melts. Our new experiments utilized samples from a rhyolitic tuff ring volcano in Mexico (Tepexitl). An experimental approach was developed, in which premixing conditions were generated by mechanical deformation of the melt, leading to brittle-type fragmentation at the melt-water interface. Physical measurements recorded during laboratory explosion provide quantitative evidence for rhyolitic explosive MFCI. Additionally, a comparison of experimentally produced particles with natural ones from Tepexitl deposits show nearly identical chemical/ mineralogical composition, grain size, and grain morphology. Detailed textural analysis confirmed the presence of phreatomagmatically produced particles in both experimental and natural analog particles. The results from this series of experiments indicate that under natural conditions, stress-induced magma fracturing can lead to a critical magma-water-interface growths and trigger phreatomagmatic explosions of high-silica magma. The water source for these eruptions may include shallow aquifers, surface water bodies, strong precipitation, and intrusion into ice or wet, unconsolidated sediments.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberB11201
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 4 2008

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science


Dive into the research topics of 'Phreatomagmatic explosions of rhyolitic magma: Experimental and field evidence'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this