Bulletin of Volcanology

, 79:14 | Cite as

Grain shape of basaltic ash populations: implications for fragmentation

  • Johanne Schmith
  • Ármann Höskuldsson
  • Paul Martin Holm
Research Article


Here, we introduce a new quantitative method to produce grain shape data of bulk samples of volcanic ash, and we correlate the bulk average grain shape with magma fragmentation mechanisms. The method is based on automatic shape analysis of 2D projection ash grains in the size range 125–63 μm. Loose bulk samples from the deposits of six different basaltic eruptions were analyzed, and 20,000 shape measurements for each were obtained within ~45 min using the Particle Insight™ dynamic shape analyzer (PIdsa). We used principal component analysis on a reference grain dataset to show that circularity, rectangularity, form factor, and elongation best discriminate between the grain shapes when combined. The grain population data show that the studied eruptive environments produce nearly the same range of grain shapes, although to different extents. Our new shape index (the regularity index (RI)) places an eruption on a spectrum between phreatomagmatic and dry magmatic fragmentation. Almost vesicle-free Surtseyan ash has an RI of 0.207 ± 0.002 (2σ), whereas vesiculated Hawaiian ash has an RI of 0.134 ± 0.001 (2σ). These two samples define the end-member RI, while two subglacial, one lacustrine, and another submarine ash sample show intermediate RIs of 0.168 ± 0.002 (2σ), 0.175 ± 0.002 (2σ), 0.187 ± 0.002 (2σ), and 0.191 ± 0.002 (2σ), respectively. The systematic change in RI between wet and dry eruptions suggests that the RI can be used to assess the relative roles of magmatic vs. phreatomagmatic fragmentation. We infer that both magmatic and phreatomagmatic fragmentation processes played a role in the subglacial eruptions.


Explosive Basaltic Ash Tephra Grain Morphology Fragmentation Iceland 



Our sincere gratitude goes to Eirik Gjerløw and Jónas Guðnason for providing samples from Jan Mayen and Grímsvötn. Our grateful thanks are also extended to Guðrún Larsen for advice and assistance with fieldwork and to Tobias Dürig, Bergrun Óladottir, Tinna Jónsdottir, Agnes Magnúsdottir, Emma Liu, and Kathy Cashman for the many interesting discussions. Finally, we warmly acknowledge the helpful comments and suggestions of P. Dellino, K. Cashman, and three anonymous reviewers.

Supplementary material

445_2016_1093_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (1.5 mb)
ESM 1 (PDF 1.47 mb)
445_2016_1093_MOESM2_ESM.bmp (12.1 mb)
ESM 2 (BMP 12370 kb)
445_2016_1093_MOESM3_ESM.bmp (1.7 mb)
ESM 3 (BMP 1734 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Johanne Schmith
    • 1
    • 2
  • Ármann Höskuldsson
    • 1
  • Paul Martin Holm
    • 2
  1. 1.Nordic Volcanological Center, Earth Science InstituteUniversity of IcelandReykjavikIceland
  2. 2.Department of Geosciences and Natural Resource ManagementUniversity of CopenhagenCopenhagenDenmark

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