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Degassing and gas percolation in basaltic magmas

M. Colombier 2021 Earth and Planetary Science Letters


Mathieu Colombier, Jeremie Vasseur, Bruce F. Houghton, Francisco Cáceres, Bettina Scheu, Ulrich Kueppers, Simon Thivet, Lucia Gurioli, Cristian Montanaro, Arianna Soldati, Andrea Di Muro and Donald B. Dingwell

Earth and Planetary Science Letters


Due to their generally low eruptive melt viscosities and concomitant high diffusivities of volatiles, basaltic magmas degas relatively efficiently. This relative efficiency, combined with variations in style, extent, timing and length scales of degassing govern the range of eruptive styles observed at basaltic volcanoes. The result is a surprising complexity of degassing regimes and products in basaltic volcanism. In particular, the transition between closed- and open-system degassing at low pressure at the percolation threshold may strongly affect the type of eruption. Here we aim to better understand degassing and gas percolation processes in basaltic magmas and their implications for eruptive style. Combining new and literature data, we present a database of vesicle metrics in basaltic rocks including vesicularity, vesicle number density, vesicle size distribution (and its polydispersivity), vesicle connectivity and permeability. We combine these textural and petrophysical data with a numerical model of percolation for systems having polydisperse vesicle size distributions. Using this model, we also evaluate different definitions of vesicle connectivity inherent to different measurement techniques. Our results show that polydispersivity exerts a strong control on the percolation threshold of basaltic magmas and consequently on eruptive style. Intermediate to highly polydisperse bubble networks are more typical of Hawaiian activity and are characterized by higher values of percolation threshold. This results in delayed coalescence and an increase in magma vesicularity hindering the formation of large decoupled and buoyant bubbles, which in turn can promote magma acceleration, fragmentation by inertia below the percolation threshold and sustained fountaining activity. Bubble populations with lower polydispersivity, typical of Strombolian eruptions, promote early coalescence prior to fragmentation, which in turn may lead to the formation of large decoupled slugs or gas pockets and/or plugs at the surface via outgassing. Further, we discuss the implications of our findings for Plinian, violent Strombolian, Surtseyan, deep submarine and effusive basaltic eruptions.