Bulletin of Volcanology

, 76:826 | Cite as

Bubble development in explosive silicic eruptions: insights from pyroclast vesicularity textures from Raoul volcano (Kermadec arc)

  • Melissa D. Rotella
  • Colin J. N. Wilson
  • Simon J. Barker
  • Katharine V. Cashman
  • Bruce F. Houghton
  • Ian C. Wright
Research Article


Critical to understanding explosive eruptions is establishing how accurately representative pyroclasts are of processes during magma vesiculation and fragmentation. Here, we present data on densities, and vesicle size and number characteristics, for representative pyroclasts from six silicic eruptions of contrasting size and style from Raoul volcano (Kermadec arc). We use these data to evaluate histories of bubble nucleation, coalescence, and growth in explosive eruptions and to provide comparisons with pumiceous dome carapace material. Density/vesicularity distributions show a scarcity of pyroclasts with ∼65–75 % vesicularity; however, pyroclasts closest to this vesicularity range have the highest bubble number density (BND) values regardless of eruptive intensity or style. Clasts with vesicularities greater than this 65–75 % “pivotal” vesicularity range have decreasing BNDs with increasing vesicularities, interpreted to reflect continuing bubble growth and coalescence. Clasts with vesicularities less than the pivotal range have BNDs that decrease with decreasing vesicularity and preserve textures indicative of processes such as stalling and open system degassing prior to vesiculation in a microlite-rich magma, or vesiculation during slow ascent of degassing magma. Bubble size distributions (BSDs) and BNDs show variations consistent with 65–75 % representing the vesicularity at which vesiculating magma is most likely to undergo fragmentation, consistent with the closest packing of spheres. We consider that the observed vesicularity range may reflect the development of permeability in the magma through shearing as it flows through the conduit. These processes can act in concert with multiple nucleation events, generating a situation of heterogeneous bubble populations that permit some regions of the magma to expand and bubbles to coalesce with other regions in which permeable networks are formed. Fragmentation preserves the range in vesicularity seen as well as any post-fragmentation/pre-quenching expansion which may have occurred. We demonstrate that differing density pyroclasts from a single eruption interval can have widely varying BND values corresponding to the degree of bubble maturation that has occurred. The modal density clasts (the usual targets for vesicularity studies) have likely undergone some degree of bubble maturation and are therefore may not be representative of the magma at the onset of fragmentation.


Bubble size distribution Vesiculation Explosive volcanism Fragmentation Pumice 



We thank the New Zealand National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research and the Masters and crew of the R.V. Tangaroa on the NZAPLUME III (2004) and TAN07/06 (2007) voyages for their logistical support. The New Zealand Department of Conservation gave permission for the fieldwork, and we acknowledge the Raoul Conservancy staff in 2004 and 2007 for their hospitality and field support on Raoul Island. Max Borella, Darren Gravley and Mike Rosenberg helped with field studies in 2007, Christopher Davy and David Helliwell helped with image processing. John Harper is thanked for mathematical assistance and Lucia Gurioli, Ben Kennedy, and John Townend are gratefully thanked for helpful discussions. Support from the Royal Society of New Zealand Marsden Fund (VUW0613) to CJNW and ICW, and from the AXA Research Fund to KVC, is gratefully acknowledged. We thank the reviewers T. Giachetti and A. Burgisser, and the editor J. Gardner, for their thorough and helpful comments which significantly improved this manuscript.

Supplementary material

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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Melissa D. Rotella
    • 1
  • Colin J. N. Wilson
    • 1
  • Simon J. Barker
    • 1
  • Katharine V. Cashman
    • 2
  • Bruce F. Houghton
    • 3
  • Ian C. Wright
    • 4
  1. 1.School of Geography, Environment and Earth SciencesVictoria University of WellingtonWellingtonNew Zealand
  2. 2.School of Earth SciencesUniversity of BristolBristolUK
  3. 3.Department of Geology and GeophysicsUniversity of Hawai’i at MānoaHonoluluUSA
  4. 4.National Oceanography CentreUniversity of Southampton Waterfront CampusSouthamptonUK

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