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Bulletin of Volcanology

, Volume 73, Issue 7, pp 789–810 | Cite as

The 512 AD eruption of Vesuvius: complex dynamics of a small scale subplinian event

  • R. CioniEmail author
  • A. Bertagnini
  • D. Andronico
  • P. D. Cole
  • F. Mundula
Research Article

Abstract

We describe the products of the hitherto poorly known 512 AD eruption at Vesuvius, Italy. The deposit records a complex sequence of eruptive events, and it has been subdivided into eight main units, composed of stratified scoria lapilli or thin subordinate ash-rich layers. All the units formed by deposition from tephra fallout, pyroclastic density currents of limited extent being restricted to the initial stages of the eruption (U2). The main part of the deposit (U3 and U5) is characterized by a striking grain size alternation of fine to coarse lapilli, similar to that often described for mid-intensity, explosive eruptions. The erupted products have a phonotephritic composition, with progressively less evolved composition from the base to the top of the stratigraphic sequence. Based on different dispersal, sedimentological and textural features of the products, we identify five phases related to different eruptive styles: opening phase (U1, U2), subplinian phase (U3 to U5), pulsatory phreatomagmatic phase (U6), violent strombolian phase (U7) and final ash-dominated phase (U8). A DRE volume of 0.025 km3 has been calculated for the total fallout deposit. Most of the magma was erupted during the subplinian phase; lithic dispersal data indicate peak column heights of between 10 and 15 km, which correspond to a mass discharge rate (MDR) of 5 × 106 kg s−1. The lower intensity, violent strombolian phase coincided with the eruption of the least evolved magma; a peak column height of 6–9 km, corresponding to an MDR of 1 ×10 6 kg s −1, is estimated from field data. Phreatomagmatic activity played a minor role in the eruption, only contributing to the ash-rich deposits of U1, U4, U6 and U8.

The two most striking features of the 512 AD eruption are the recurrent shifting of the eruption style and the pulsatory nature of the subplinian phase. Basing on a large set of observational data, we propose a model to explain this complex dynamics, also observed in other eruptions of similar scale from Vesuvius and elsewhere. The inbalance between the rates of magma supply and magma eruption may have caused the frequent changes in the eruptive style. Conversely, the high frequency oscillations of magma discharge recorded by the deposits of the subplinian phase were possibly related to cyclic instabilities in the permeability of the low viscosity magma column, which modulated magma fragmentation and discharge.

Keywords

Subplinian Vesuvius Magma fragmentation Phreatomagmatism Eruption dynamics 

Notes

Acknowledgements

The research was done with the contribution of the EC EVR1-CT-2002-40026 Exploris project (Responsible Augusto Neri) and from funds from the Istituto Nazionale di Geofisica e Vulcanologia and Dipartimento Protezione Civile (Project V3-4 Vesuvius) to Raffaello Cioni. Dr Lucia Corsini is greatly acknowledged for field and analytical work, and Patrizia Pantani for graphic assistance. FM acknowledges the Fondazione Banco di Sardegna for founding his research fellowship. We greatly acknowledge the precious suggestions of John Stix, Marc Antoine Longpré and an anonymous reviewer.

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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • R. Cioni
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • A. Bertagnini
    • 2
  • D. Andronico
    • 3
  • P. D. Cole
    • 4
    • 5
  • F. Mundula
    • 1
  1. 1.Dip.to di Scienze della TerraUniversità di CagliariCagliariItaly
  2. 2.Istituto Nazionale di Geofisica e Vulcanologia, sezione di PisaPisaItaly
  3. 3.Istituto Nazionale di Geofisica e Vulcanologia, sezione di CataniaCataniaItaly
  4. 4.Montserrat Volcano ObservatoryFlemmingsWest Indies
  5. 5.Seismic Research CentreTrinidad and TobagoWest Indies

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