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Research Papers

Issue date: 
Category: 
Volcanic activity
Paper number: 
4622

The seismo-acoustic energy dynamics of micro-eruptions at White Island volcan

Arthur Jolly, GNS Science (EQC funded project 14/677)

Journal papers accepted in lieu of final report - details below.

Non-Technical Abstract

Multiple small eruptions occurred within a mud-sulphur pool in 2013 at White Island volcano, New Zealand was host to. Although small explosions are common at White Island, past events have largely gone undescribed in favour of the larger more dramatic eruptions. Here, we detail the first and longest episode of small explosions in 2013, lasting from January 15 to February 7 using video and photo analysis from tour operators and staff responsible for monitoring the volcano.

Differences in the dominant bubble burst style across this episode led to the classification of four distinct eruption regimes: (1) Multiple irregular bursts of muddy water on the pool surface, (2) Larger distinct symmetric hemispheres with starbursts or mud followed by mud squirts, (3) No initial pool surface deformation but a vertical steam jet followed by a sometimes large directed mud squirt, (4) No lake and continuous pulsating dry ash eruptions. The progression through these regimes is associated with a lowering lake level and increasing stickiness of the mud in the pool, which initially comprises a runny muddy water, and partially evaporates to yield a shallow layer of sticky mud that ends with the complete drying up of the mud pool. Formation of primary mud bursts or gas jets are followed by mud squirts. The heights of these squirts are used as a measure of explosivity. Heights increase from ~8 m during Regime (1) to ~102 m during Regime (3) and reduced back to low levels as the pool re-established.

Through observations of the shapes of ejected mud clots, we propose that the increasing explosivity of higher number regimes is primarily due to increasing gas bubble lengths teamed with increasing mud pool stickiness. Occasionally visible yellowing of the steam/gas plume led us to suggest that elemental sulphur may also be present in the conduit and may also play a role in regulating bubble release dynamics. We found no evidence for actual magma in the Jan-Feb eruption episode. 

However, we concur with other investigators that magma was to probably present at shallow levels and may have driven heat and gas flux. The variable release of gas and heat during Jan and Feb impacted the pool level; the water to sediment ratio in the pool, and thus the stickiness of the mud, and in turn controlled the eruptions. The varying degree of explosivity throughout this episode calls for a new consideration of pool properties in assessing eruption hazards at this frequently visited volcano. We additionally emphasize the hazards flying hot acidic mud clots from these small eruptions and the potential for range of seismic signals, and infrasound tremor to help with future monitoring of these hazards.

Technical Abstract

White Island volcano, New Zealand, was a host to multiple hydrothermal eruptive episodes within a mud-sulphur pool in 2013.  Although hydrothermal activity is common at White Island, past events have largely gone undescribed in favour of the larger phreatomagmatic and magmatic eruptions.  Here, we detail the first and longest hydro-thermal episode of 2013, lasting from 15 January to 7 February using video and photo analysis from tour operators and staff responsible for monitoring the volcano.  Differences in the dominant bubble burst style across this episode led to the classification of four distinct eruption regimes. 

The progression through these regimes is associated with a lowering lake level and a concomitantly increasing viscosity of the pool, which initially comprises a low viscosity muddy water, and partially evaporates to yield a shallow layer of high viscosity mud that ends with the complete drying up of the mud pool.  Formation of primary mud hemispheres or gas jets is followed by heaves or secondary upheaval events.  The heights of these heaves are used as a measure of explosivity.  Heights increase from ~8 m during regime 1 on 15 January to ~102m during regime 3 on 28 January.  Venting of dry mud during regime 4 developed on 29 January before a regression back to regime 1 took place on 7 February as the pool re-established.

Through observations of the shapes of ejected mud clots, we propose that the increasing explosivity of higher number regimes is primarily due to increasing slug bubble lengths teamed with increasing mud pool viscosity.  We attribute a lesser control to the decreasing depth of the pool during its progressive desiccation, which may in turn influence the bubble burst depth.  Occasionally, visible yellowing of the steam-[gas plume led us to suggest that elemental sulphur may also be present in the conduit and may also play a role in regulating bubble release dynamics.

Although evidence for magmatic/phreatomagmatic eruptions was present during eruptions later in 2013, we found no evidence for juvenile magma in the January-February eruption episode described here.  However, we concur with other investigators that magma was probably intruded to shallow levels and may have driven heat and gas flux.  Our explanation for the correlation of pool depth, mud iscosity and eruption regime is based on a conceptual model in whicha pool is perched above a two phase hydrothermal system and is sensitive to changes in the heat and gas flux from shallow magma. 

The variable release of gas and thermal perturbations in the course of the January-February eruptive episode impacted the pool level, the water to sediment ratio in thepool, and thus its viscosity, and in turn modulated the eruption regime.  The varying degree of explosivity throughout this episode calls for a new consideration of pool properties in assessing eruption hazards at this frequently visited volcano. 

We additionally emphasise that ballistic hazards from small eruptions exist coupled with a range of seismic signals and that the hazard was greatest during infrasound tremor.

References for publications accepted as final report:

Arthur Jolly, Ben Kennedy, Matt Edwards, Philippe Jousset, Bettina Scheu 2016- Infrasound tremor from bubble burst eruptions in the viscous shallow crater lake of White Island, NZ and its implications for interpreting volcanic source processes-Journal of Volc&Geotherm Res 327(2016)585-603 - 10.1016/j.volgeores.2016.08.010

Diana Schmid, Bettina Scheu, Fabian B Wadsworth, Ben M Kennedy, Arthur Jolly, Donald B Dingwell 2017 - A viscous-to-brittle transition in eruptions through clay suspensions - Geophysical Research Letters 2017 - 10.1002/2017GL073641

M J Edwards, B M Kennedy, A D Jolly, B Scheu, P Jousset 2017 - Evolution of a small hydrothermal eruption episode through a mud pool of varying depth and rheology, White Island, NZ - Bulletin of Volcanology (2017) 79:16 - doi: 10/1007/s00445-017-110-5

 

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