Deep-sea eruptions boosted by induced fuel–coolant explosions

Abstract

The majority of Earth’s volcanic eruptions occur beneath the sea, but the limited number of direct observations and samples limits our understanding of these unseen events. Subaerial eruptions lend some insight, but direct extrapolation from the subaerial to the deep sea is precluded by the great differences in pressure, thermal conditions, density and rheology, and the interplay among them. Here we present laboratory fragmentation experiments that mimic deep-sea explosive eruptions and compare our laboratory observations with those from the kilometre-deep submarine eruption of Havre Volcano, Kermadec Arc, New Zealand, in 2012. We find that the Havre eruption involved explosive fragmentation of magma by a pressure-insensitive interaction between cool water and hot magma, termed an induced fuel–coolant interaction. The laboratory experiments show that this water–magma interaction is initiated by the formation of cracks in cooling magma into which the water coolant can infiltrate, driving explosive fragmentation. Explosive submarine eruptions have previously been considered unlikely because stabilization of a vapour film at the magma–water contact was thought to be a key requirement but is suppressed at depths exceeding 100 m. However, here we demonstrate that these induced fuel–coolant interactions between magma and water can occur in a range of wet environments regardless of pressure, from the subaerial to the deep sea, and may operate on different planets, as well as apply to materials other than magma and water.

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Fig. 1: Comparison of MFCI with IFCI.
Fig. 2: Melt fragmentation experiments.
Fig. 3: Increased explosivity in IFCI fragmentation experiments.
Fig. 4: Morphometric analysis results by t-tests and e-tests.
Fig. 5: Thermal expansion coefficient at laboratory and seafloor pressures.

Data availability

Raw data and results of t-tests, including P values, t values and degrees of freedom, are available on the open-access data archive PANGAEA42 and can be retrieved under https://doi.org/10.1594/PANGAEA.908865. Additional experimental data, including videos, are available from the corresponding author on request. Source data are provided with this paper.

Code availability

MATLAB routines used for data processing and modelling are available from the corresponding author on request. Source data are provided with this paper.

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Acknowledgements

L. Schmid, R. J. M. Baxter and D. Longridge are acknowledged for assisting with particle analysis. We thank I. Schipper for proof-reading and gratefully acknowledge I. Sonder for helpful comments that substantially improved an earlier version of the manuscript. This study was supported by MARSDEN grant U001616; Havre samples were obtained with NSF funding EAR1447559. R.J.C. was funded by Australian Research Council grants DP110102196 and DE150101190, and by US National Science Foundation grant OCE1357443.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Contributions

J.D.L.W. designed and supervised the Marsden research project. T.D., J.D.L.W., B.Z., R.B. and A.P.M. conducted the laboratory experiments at Physikalisch Vulkanologisches Labor, University of Würzburg. T.D. and N.S. sampled the experimental particles. T.D. conducted two-dimensional morphometry and statistical analysis of both experimental and natural ash with support from D.M. and P.D. D.M., P.D. and T.D. conducted X-ray microtomography and image reconstruction. L.S.S. computed thermal expansion coefficients. R.J.C. was leader of the NSF cruise and helped formulate the Marsden project. J.D.L.W., R.J.C. and A.P.M. took part in the NSF cruise and collected the dome rock used as starting material for melt fragmentation experiments. R.J.C. and A.P.M. provided Havre ash samples and related metadata, including the bathymetric map. Figures and plots were produced by T.D. and L.S.S. T.D. and J.D.L.W. wrote the manuscript, with contributions from all the authors.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to T. Dürig.

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Extended data

Extended Data Fig. 1 Notation of studied ash samples and sample locations.

a, labels of the ten different particle samples analysed for this study. b, photo showing droplets deposited after open IFCI experiments at the ceilings and walls around the experimental area. These droplets contain very fine particles, which are denoted “IW” samples. c, map showing vicinity of Havre volcano. It was acquired in 2015 and is adapted from Carey et al.4. Indicated changes can be attributed to the 2012 eruption. Next to pumice and ash, this eruption featured also eleven lava flows, here denoted “A” through “N”. The rocks used for the melt experiments presented in this study were collected at the newly formed dome labelled “OP”.

Extended Data Fig. 2 Recoil-force and driving pressure recorded in fragmentation runs.

a, Maximum recoil force Fmax and pressure Pmax measured for dry (“D”, red) and IFCI runs (blue). Squares indicate experiments with reduced (100 g) melt mass mmelt. Fmax represents “explosiveness” of response to the initiating driving pressure. Pressure and force curves given for the three strongest dry (b-d) and IFCI (e-g) runs. Measurement uncertainties are within marker sizes. Source data

Extended Data Fig. 3 Grainsize distribution of experimental particles.

a, grainsize distributions for seven dry runs and b, for five IFCI runs. Black curves for cumulative sums averaged over all samples demonstrate increased amounts of ash generated by IFCI. Notation as in Extended Data Fig. 2. Source data

Extended Data Fig. 4 Thermal expansion coefficient for different pressures.

Compared to surface pressure conditions (0.1 MPa), the boiling temperature of water at 1 km depth is significantly higher. This allows the water to reach regimes with considerably higher thermal expansion coefficients. This is one of the reasons why IFCI processes are enhanced under deep-sea conditions.

Extended Data Fig. 5 Schematic setup for dry and IFCI runs.

a, cross-section illustrates the configuration of gas inlet and location of sensors. b, gas reservoir used to provide the pressurized argon gas for fragmentation experiments.

Extended Data Fig. 6 Shape parameters and maximum distance ranges Dmax used for morphometric analyses.

The mathematical definitions of the shape parameters can be found in the listed sources. All parameters were computed using the software PARTISAN. Note that some of the shape parameters are used through the various systems, though not always identically named32.

Extended Data Fig. 7 Statistical testing procedure followed for comparative morphometric analysis.

Two samples were first tested for significant differences in their 23 shape parameters, using one of the two t-tests. If variances were comparable, and no significant difference was found in any of the shape parameters, calibrated e-tests were applied to check for significant similarity.

Extended Data Fig. 8 Results of equivalence tests between sample IU (grains retrieved via U-tube in IFCI runs) and natural ash grains (Nat1–Nat6).

Values represent the calculated minimum range D, under which the equivalence test would still be passed. The maximum value of D for each shape parameter is presented in the column labelled “max. diff.”. If this value is equal or smaller than the threshold for curvi-planar ash grains (Dmax, see also Extended Data Fig. 6), the compared data sets can be treated as significantly similar in the according shape parameter. Equivalence test results are only valid for data sets with homogeneous variances. If this precondition is not fulfilled, results were omitted, denoted by “(...)”. None of these values exceed the threshold given by Dmax, hence it can be concluded that experimental IFCI particles retrieved via U-tube and natural grains show no detectable difference in their shapes.

Extended Data Fig. 9 Results of equivalence tests between sample IW (grains retrieved after IFCI runs inside water droplets, deposited at ceilings and walls) and natural ash grains (Nat1–Nat6).

Values represent the calculated minimum range D, under which the equivalence test would still be passed. The maximum value of D for each shape parameter is presented in the column labelled “max. diff.”. If this value is equal or smaller than the threshold for curvi-planar ash grains (Dmax, see also Extended Data Fig. 6), the compared datasets can be treated as significantly similar in the according shape parameter. Equivalence test results are only valid for datasets with homogeneous variances. If this precondition is not fulfilled, results were omitted, denoted by “(...)”. None of these values exceed the threshold given by Dmax, hence it can be concluded that IW particles and natural grains show no detectable difference in their shapes.

Extended Data Fig. 10 Results of equivalence tests between sample IW and IU.

Values represent the calculated minimum range D, under which the equivalence test would still be passed. If this value is equal or smaller than the threshold for curvi-planar ash grains (Dmax, see also Extended Data Fig. 6), the compared data sets can be treated as significantly similar in the according shape parameter. Equivalence test results are only valid for data sets with homogeneous variances. If this precondition is not fulfilled, results were omitted, denoted by “(...)”. In 12 of the tested 23 shape parameters, a significant similarity is verified via e-tests. In the other 11 shape parameters, no statement can be made.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Video

Movie clips showing an IFCI run with U-tube. The recorded frame rates were 50 fps (played back at 100% and 10% speed), 30 fps (played back at 10% speed) and 3,000 fps (played at 20 fps). At 33 ms after the start of fragmentation, the U-tube separates from the crucible. The bulk of particles which were retrieved in the water bowl originate from the leading clast front, which has already passed through the pipe at this time. No researchers were harmed during the making of these films.

Source data

Source Data Fig. 3

Force, pressure and sieve analysis data.

Source Data Extended Data Fig. 2a

Force and pressure data.

Source Data Extended Data Fig. 3

Sieve analysis data.

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Dürig, T., White, J.D.L., Murch, A.P. et al. Deep-sea eruptions boosted by induced fuel–coolant explosions. Nat. Geosci. 13, 498–503 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41561-020-0603-4

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