, Volume 72, Issue 5, pp 559-577

The Pomici di Avellino eruption of Somma–Vesuvius (3.9 ka BP). Part II: sedimentology and physical volcanology of pyroclastic density current deposits

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Abstract

Pyroclastic density currents (PDCs) generated during the Plinian eruption of the Pomici di Avellino (PdA) of Somma–Vesuvius were investigated through field and laboratory studies, which allowed the detailed reconstruction of their eruptive and transportation dynamics and the calculation of key physical parameters of the currents. PDCs were generated during all the three phases that characterised the eruption, with eruptive dynamics driven by both magmatic and phreatomagmatic fragmentation. Flows generated during phases 1 and 2 (EU1 and EU3pf, magmatic fragmentation) have small dispersal areas and affected only part of the volcano slopes. Lithofacies analysis demonstrates that the flow-boundary zones were dominated by granular-flow regimes, which sometimes show transitions to traction regimes. PDCs generated during eruptive phase 3 (EU5, phreatomagmatic fragmentation) were the most voluminous and widespread in the whole of Somma–Vesuvius’ eruptive history, and affected a wide area around the volcano with deposit thicknesses of a few centimetres up to more than 25 km from source. Lithofacies analysis shows that the flow-boundary zones of EU5 PDCs were dominated by granular flows and traction regimes. Deposits of EU5 PDC show strong lithofacies variation northwards, from proximally thick, massive to stratified beds towards dominantly alternating beds of coarse and fine ash in distal reaches. The EU5 lithofacies also show strong lateral variability in proximal areas, passing from the western and northern to the eastern and southern volcano slopes, where the deposits are stacked beds of massive, accretionary lapilli-bearing fine ash. The sedimentological model developed for the PDCs of the PdA eruption explains these strong lithofacies variations in the light of the volcano’s morphology at the time of the eruption. In particular, the EU5 PDCs survived to pass over the break in slope between the volcano sides and the surrounding volcaniclastic apron–alluvial plain, with development of new flows from the previously suspended load. Pulses were developed within individual currents, leading to stepwise deposition on both the volcano slopes and the surrounding volcaniclastic apron and alluvial plain. Physical parameters including velocity, density and concentration profile with height were calculated for a flow of the phreatomagmatic phase of the eruption by applying a sedimentological method, and the values of the dynamic pressure were derived. Some hazard considerations are summarised on the assumption that, although not very probable, similar PDCs could develop during future eruptions of Somma–Vesuvius.

Editorial responsibility: J. White.