Marine Science Faculty Publications

Lava Bubble-wall Fragments Formed by Submarine Hydrovolcanic Explosions on Lō'ihi Seamount and Kīlauea Volcano

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Glassy bubble-wall fragments, morphologically similar to littoral limu o Pele, have been found in volcanic sands erupted on Lō'ihi Seamount and along the submarine east rift zone of Kīlauea Volcano. The limu o Pele fragments are undegassed with respect to H2O and S and formed by mild steam explosions. Angular glass sand fragments apparently form at similar, and greater, depths by cooling-contraction granulation. The limu o Pele fragments from Lō'ihi Seamount are dominantly tholeiitic basalt containing 6.25–7.25% MgO. None of the limu o Pele samples from Lō'ihi Seamount contains less than 5.57% MgO, suggesting that higher viscosity magmas do not form lava bubbles. The dissolved CO2 and H2O contents of 7 of the limu o Pele fragments indicate eruption at 1200±300 m depth (120±30 bar). These pressures exceed that generally thought to limit steam explosions. We conclude that hydrovolcanic eruptions are possible, with appropriate pre-mixing conditions, at pressures as great as 120 bar.

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Bulletin of Volcanology, v. 61, p. 437-449