From field data to volumes: constraining uncertainties in pyroclastic eruption parameters
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In this study, we aim to understand the variability in eruption volume estimates derived from field studies of pyroclastic deposits. We distributed paper maps of the 1959 Kīlauea Iki tephra to 101 volcanologists worldwide, who produced hand-drawn isopachs. Across the returned maps, uncertainty in isopach areas is 7 % across the well-sampled deposit but increases to over 30 % for isopachs that are governed by the largest and smallest thickness measurements. We fit the exponential, power-law, and Weibull functions through the isopach thickness versus area1/2 values and find volume estimate variations up to a factor of 4.9 for a single map. Across all maps and methodologies, we find an average standard deviation for a total volume of s = 29 %. The volume uncertainties are largest for the most proximal (s = 62 %) and distal field (s = 53 %) and small for the densely sampled intermediate deposit (s = 8 %). For the Kīlauea Iki 1959 eruption, we find that the deposit beyond the 5-cm isopach contains only 2 % of the total erupted volume, whereas the near-source deposit contains 48 % and the intermediate deposit 50 % of the total volume. Thus, the relative uncertainty within each zone impacts the total volume estimates differently. The observed uncertainties for the different deposit regions in this study illustrate a fundamental problem of estimating eruption volumes: while some methodologies may provide better fits to the isopach data or rely on fewer free parameters, the main issue remains the predictive capabilities of the empirical functions for the regions where measurements are missing.
KeywordsIsopachs Kīlauea Iki Pyroclastic deposits Tephra
We wish to thank the many volcanologists who participated in this study. We also thank Wendy Cockshell and Isaac Ishihara for their assistance in processing the isopach maps. The thorough and constructive reviews by Dr. Raffaello Cioni and an anonymous reviewer are gratefully acknowledged. This study was supported by the Fred M. Bullard Fellowship and NSF awards EAR-0810332 and EAR-1145159.
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