Record of complex scoria cone eruptive activity at Red Mountain, Arizona, USA, and implications for monogenetic mafic volcanoes

N. R. Riggs, W. A. Duffield

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

44 Scopus citations


Scoria cone eruptions are generally modeled as a simple succession from explosive eruption to form the cone to passive effusion of lava, generally from the base of the cone. Sector collapse of scoria cones, wherein parts of the cone are rafted on a lava flow, is increasingly recognized as common, but the reasons that a cone may not be rebuilt are poorly understood. Red Mountain volcano is a Pleistocene scoria cone in the San Francisco Volcanic Field of northern Arizona, USA. The cone lies along the trace of a major steeply dipping normal fault that originated during Proterozoic tectonism and was reactivated in Tertiary time. The earliest phase of eruption at Red Mountain was typical "Strombolian", forming a cone that was followed by or possibly synchronous with lava effusion, toward the west from the base of the cone. Rafting then ensued as the west side of the cone collapsed; approximately 15% of the cone is preserved in mounds as much as 30 m high. Rafting was extensive enough to remove most of the cone over the vent area, which effectively reduced the pressure cap on the magma conduit. Resultant low fountaining fed clastogenic lava flows and minor scoria fallback. Clastogenic flows traveled as far as 4 km and now form a cliff 30-40 m high at the edge of the lava platform. Although several possibilities explain the change in vent dynamics and eruptive style, we favor the interpretation that an increase in magma-rise rate caused collapse of the cone. The abrupt removal of 300 m of material over the vent removed a conduit "cork" and low fountaining began. Magma that had erupted effusively suddenly became explosive. This aspect of scoria cone rafting at Red Mountain is broadly similar to sector collapse followed by explosive eruption in larger systems. A steep-walled, 150-m-high amphitheatre on the northeast side of Red Mountain exposes weakly to strongly altered scoria cemented by calcite, iron, and zeolites. We suggest that vapor-phase alteration was responsible for sealing fine-grained ash beds in the cone, and a pressurized system developed. Residual heat from a dike that was emplaced as part of the magmatic activity provided heat that drove groundwater along the regional fault up into the cone. Eventually the overpressurized system exploded in a phreatic eruption that created the amphitheatre, which has subsequently been enlarged by water and wind erosion. The combined sequence of events at Red Mountain illustrates some of the complexities in monogenetic scoria cone eruptions that have received little attention to date.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)763-776
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 30 2008


  • San Francisco Volcanic Field
  • clastogenic flow
  • hydrothermal alteration
  • monogenetic volcanism
  • rafting
  • scoria cone

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • Geochemistry and Petrology


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