Thermomechanical milling of accessory lithics in volcanic conduits

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Accessory lithic clasts recovered from pyroclastic deposits commonly result from the failure of conduit wall rocks, and represent an underutilized resource for constraining conduit processes during explosive volcanic eruptions. The morphological features of lithic clasts provide distinctive 'textural fingerprints' of processes that have reshaped them during transport in the conduit. Here, we present the first study focused on accessory lithic clast morphology and show how the shapes and surfaces of these accessory pyroclasts can inform on conduit processes. We use two main types of accessory lithic clasts from pyroclastic fallout deposits of the 2360 B.P. subplinian eruption of Mount Meager, British Columbia, as a case study: (i) rough and subangular dacite clasts, and (ii) variably rounded and smoothed monzogranite clasts. The quantitative morphological data collected on these lithics include: mass, volume, density, 2-D image analysis of convexity (C), and 3-D laser scans for sphericity (Ψ) and smoothness (S). Shaping and comminution (i.e. milling) of clasts within the conduit are ascribed to three processes: (1) disruptive fragmentation due to high-energy impacts between clasts or between clasts and conduit walls, (2) ash-blasting of clasts suspended within the volcanic flux, and (3) thermal effects. We use a simplified conduit eruption model to predict ash-blasting velocities and lithic residence times as a function of clast size and source depth, thereby constraining the lithic milling processes. The extent of shape and surface modification (i.e. rounding and honing) is directly proportional to clast residence times within the conduit prior to evacuation. We postulate that the shallow-seated dacite clasts remain subangular and rough due to short (<2 min) residence times, whereas monzogranite clasts are much more rounded and smoothed due to deeper source depths and consequently longer residence times (up to ~1 h). Larger monzogranite clasts are smoother than smaller clasts due to longer residence times and to greater differential velocities within the ash-laden jet. Lastly, our model residence times and mass loss estimates for rounded clasts are used to estimate minimum attrition rates due to volcanic ash-blasting within the conduit (e.g., 12 cm 3 s -1 for 25 cm clasts, sourced at 2500 m depth). © 2013 Elsevier B.V.




Campbell, M. E., Russell, J. K., & Porritt, L. A. (2013). Thermomechanical milling of accessory lithics in volcanic conduits. Earth and Planetary Science Letters, 377378, 276–286.

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