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Redox evolution of a degassing magma rising to the surface


Volatiles carried by magmas, either dissolved or exsolved, have a fundamental effect on a variety of geological phenomena, such as magma dynamics1,2,3,4,5 and the composition of the Earth’s atmosphere6. In particular, the redox state of volcanic gases emanating at the Earth’s surface is widely believed to mirror that of the magma source, and is thought to have exerted a first-order control on the secular evolution of atmospheric oxygen6,7. Oxygen fugacity ( f O 2 ) estimated from lava or related gas chemistry, however, may vary by as much as one log unit8,9,10, and the reason for such differences remains obscure. Here we use a coupled chemical–physical model of conduit flow to show that the redox state evolution of an ascending magma, and thus of its coexisting gas phase, is strongly dependent on both the composition and the amount of gas in the reservoir. Magmas with no sulphur show a systematic f O 2 increase during ascent, by as much as 2 log units. Magmas with sulphur show also a change of redox state during ascent, but the direction of change depends on the initial f O 2 in the reservoir. Our calculations closely reproduce the H2S/SO2 ratios of volcanic gases observed at convergent settings, yet the difference between f O 2 in the reservoir and that at the exit of the volcanic conduit may be as much as 1.5 log units. Thus, the redox state of erupted magmas is not necessarily a good proxy of the redox state of the gases they emit. Our findings may require re-evaluation of models aimed at quantifying the role of magmatic volatiles in geological processes.

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Figure 1: Fundamental relationship between magma ascent and magma redox state, for a rhyolite magma coexisting with a H–O gas.
Figure 2: Fundamental relationship between magma ascent and magma redox state, for a rhyolite magma coexisting with a H–O–S gas.
Figure 3: Evolution of the composition of an H–O–S gas during ascent of a rhyolite magma.


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We thank M. Rutherford and P. Wallace for comments that helped us to improve our model. A.B. acknowledges support from the Swiss National Science Foundation. Author Contributions A.B. incorporated the thermodynamic code of gas–melt equilibria developed by B.S. into his one-dimensional conduit flow model. A.B. performed all the simulations. Both authors contributed equally to the interpretation of the model results and to the writing of the paper.

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Correspondence to Alain Burgisser.

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Burgisser, A., Scaillet, B. Redox evolution of a degassing magma rising to the surface. Nature 445, 194–197 (2007).

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