Skip to main content

MeMoVolc report on classification and dynamics of volcanic explosive eruptions

Abstract

Classifications of volcanic eruptions were first introduced in the early twentieth century mostly based on qualitative observations of eruptive activity, and over time, they have gradually been developed to incorporate more quantitative descriptions of the eruptive products from both deposits and observations of active volcanoes. Progress in physical volcanology, and increased capability in monitoring, measuring and modelling of explosive eruptions, has highlighted shortcomings in the way we classify eruptions and triggered a debate around the need for eruption classification and the advantages and disadvantages of existing classification schemes. Here, we (i) review and assess existing classification schemes, focussing on subaerial eruptions; (ii) summarize the fundamental processes that drive and parameters that characterize explosive volcanism; (iii) identify and prioritize the main research that will improve the understanding, characterization and classification of volcanic eruptions and (iv) provide a roadmap for producing a rational and comprehensive classification scheme. In particular, classification schemes need to be objective-driven and simple enough to permit scientific exchange and promote transfer of knowledge beyond the scientific community. Schemes should be comprehensive and encompass a variety of products, eruptive styles and processes, including for example, lava flows, pyroclastic density currents, gas emissions and cinder cone or caldera formation. Open questions, processes and parameters that need to be addressed and better characterized in order to develop more comprehensive classification schemes and to advance our understanding of volcanic eruptions include conduit processes and dynamics, abrupt transitions in eruption regime, unsteadiness, eruption energy and energy balance.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

References

  • Andronico D, Cristaldi A, Scollo S (2008) The 4-5 September 2007 lava fountain at south-east crater of Mt Etna, Italy. J Volcanol Geotherm Res 173(3–4):325–328

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Andronico D, Scollo S, Cristaldi A, Lo Castro D (2014a) Representivity of incompletely sampled fall deposits in estimating eruption source parameters: a test using the 12–13 January 2011 lava fountain deposit from Mt. Etna volcano, Italy, Bullettin of Volcanology 76:861. doi:10.1007/s00445-014-0861-3

    Google Scholar 

  • Andronico D, Scollo S, Lo Castro MD, Cristaldi A, Lodato L, Taddeucci J (2014b) Eruption dynamics and tephra dispersal from the 24 November 2006 paroxysm at south-east crater, Mt Etna, Italy. J Volcanol Geotherm Res 274:78–91. doi:10.1016/j.jvolgeores.2014.01.009

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bonadonna C, Costa A (2012) Estimating the volume of tephra deposits: a new simple strategy. Geology 40(5):415–418

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bonadonna C, Costa A (2013) Plume height, volume and classification of volcanic eruptions based on the Weibull function. Bull Volcanol 75(742). doi:10.1007/s00445-013-0742-1

  • Bonadonna C, Houghton BF (2005) Total grainsize distribution and volume of tephra-fall deposits. Bull Volcanol 67:441–456

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bower SM, Woods AW (1996) On the dispersal of clasts from volcanic craters during small explosive eruptions. J Volcanol Geotherm Res 73(1–2):19–32

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Calvari S, Salerno GG, Spampinato L, Gouhier M, La Spina A, Pecora E, Harris AJL, Labazuy P, Biale E, Boschi E (2011) An unloading foam model to constrain Etna’s 11–13 January 2011 lava fountaining episode. J Geophys Res 116:B11207. doi:10.1029/2011JB008407

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Carey S, Sigurdsson H (1987) Temporal variations in column height and magma discharge rate during the 79 ad eruption of Vesuvius. Geol Soc Am Bull 99(2):303–314

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Carey SN, Sparks RSJ (1986) Quantitative models of the fallout and dispersal of tephra from volcanic eruption columns. Bull Volcanol 48:109–125

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Cas RAF, Wright JV (1988) Volcanic successions, modern and ancient: a geological approach to processes, products, and successions. Allen & Unwin, London/Boston, p 528

  • Castruccio A, Clavero J, Segura A, Samaniego P, Roche O, Le Pennec JL, Droguett B (2016) Eruptive parameters and dynamics of the April 2015 sub-Plinian eruptions of Calbuco volcano (southern Chile). Bull Volcanol 78(9):62. doi:10.1007/s00445-016-1058-8

  • Cioni R, Marianelli P, Sbrana A (1992) Dynamics of the AD 79 eruption: stratigraphic, sedimentological and geochemical data on the successions from the Somma-Vesuvius southern and eastern sectors. Acta Vulcanol 2:109–123

    Google Scholar 

  • Cioni R, Civetta L, Marianelli P, Metrich N, Santacroce R, Sbrana A (1995) Compositional layering and syn-eruptive mixing of a periodically refilled shallow magma chamber—the ad-79 plinian eruption of Vesuvius. J Petrol 36(3):739–776

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Cioni R, Santacroce R, Sbrana A (1999) Pyroclastic deposits as a guide for reconstructing the multi-stage evolution of the Somma-Vesuvius caldera. Bull Volcanol 61(4):207–222

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Collini E, Soledad Osores M, Folch A, Viramonte JG, Villarosa G, Salmuni G (2013) Volcanic ash forecast during the June 2011 Cordon Caulle eruption. Nat Hazards 66(2):389–412

  • Colucci S, de’Michieli Vitturi M, Neri A, Palladino D (2014) An integrated model of magma chamber, conduit, and column for the analysis of sustained magmatic eruptions. Earth Planet Sci Lett 404:98–110

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Costa A, Sparks RSJ, Macedonio G, Melnik O (2009) Effects of wall-rock elasticity on magma flow in dykes during explosive eruptions. Earth Planetary Science Letters 288:455–462

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Costa A, Gottsmann J, Melnik O, Sparks RSJ (2011) A stress-controlled mechanism for the intensity of very large magnitude explosive eruptions. Earth Planetary Science Letters 310:161–166

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • de’ Michieli Vitturi M, Clarke AB, Neri A, Voight B (2013) Extrusion cycles during dome-building eruptions. Earth Planet Sci Lett 371-372:37–48

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Fagents SA, Wilson L (1993) Explosive volcanic-eruptions. 7. The ranges of pyroclasts ejected in transient volcanic explosions. Geophys J Int 113(2):359–370

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Fierstein J, Nathenson M (1992) Another look at the calculation of tephra volumes. Bull Volcanol 54:156–167

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Francis P (1993) Volcanoes: a planetary perspective. Clarendon Press, Oxford, p 443

  • Francis PW, Glaze LS, Pieri D, Oppenheimer CMM, Rothery DA (1990) Eruption terms. Nature 346

  • Garces M (2013) On infrasound standards, part 1: time, frequency, and energy scaling. InfraMatics 2:13–35. doi:10.4236/inframatics.2013.22002

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Gèze B (1964) Sur la classification des dynamismes volcaniques. Bull Volcanol 27:237–257

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Harris AJL, Flynn LP, Keszthelyi L, Mouginis-Mark PJ, Rowland SK, Resing JA (1998) Calculation of lava effusion rates from Landsat TM data. Bull Volcanol 60(1):52–71

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hedervari P (1963) On the energy and magnitude of volcanic eruptions. Bull Volcanol 25:373–385

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Houghton BF, Gonnermann HM (2008) Basaltic explosive volcanism: constraints from deposits and models. Chemie Der Erde-Geochemistry 68(2):117–140

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Houghton BF, Swanson DA, Rausch J, Carey RJ, Fagents SA (2013) Pushing the volcanic explosivity index to its limit and beyond: constraints from exceptionally weak explosive eruptions at Kīlauea in 2008. Geology 41:627–630. doi:10.1130/G34146.1

  • Houghton BF, Carey RJ, Rosenberg MD (2014) The 1800a Taupo eruption: “ill wind” blows the ultraplinian type event down to plinian. Geology. doi:10.1130/G35400.1

    Google Scholar 

  • Koyaguchi T, Suzuki YJ, Kozono T (2010) Effects of the crater on eruption column dynamics. J Geophys Res 115:B07205. doi:10.1029/2009JB007146

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Lacroix A (1908) La Montagne Pelee Apres Ses Eruptions. Kessinger Publishing, Whitefish, p 146

  • Marchetti E, Harris AJL (2008) Trends in activity at Pu’u ‘O’o during 2001-2003: insights from the continuous thermal record. Geological Society London Special Publications 307:85–101. doi:10.1144/SP307.6

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • McDonald A (1972) Volcanoes. Prentice-Hall Inc., Englewood Cliffs, p 510

  • Mercalli G (1907) I vulcani attivi della terra: morfologia - dinamismo - prodotti - distribuzione geografica – cause. Ulrico Hoepli, Milan, p. 421

    Google Scholar 

  • Newhall CG, Self S (1982) The volcanic explosivity index (Vei)—an estimate of explosive magnitude for historical volcanism. Journal of Geophysical Research-Oceans and Atmospheres 87(NC2):1231–1238

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Perret FA (1950) Volcanological observations. Carnegie Institution of Washington, Publication 549, Washington DC, p. 162

    Google Scholar 

  • Pioli L, Azzopardi BJ, Cashman KV (2009) Controls on the explosivity of scoria cone eruptions: magma segregation at conduit junctions. J Volcanol Geotherm Res 186(3–4):407–415

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Pyle DM (1989) The thickness, volume and grainsize of tephra fall deposits. Bull Volcanol 51(1):1–15

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Rittmann A (1944) Vulcani attività e genesi. Editrice Politecnica, Naples

    Google Scholar 

  • Rittmann A (1962) Volcanoes and their activity. Wiley-Interscience Publishers, New York, p. 305

    Google Scholar 

  • Robertson R, Cole P, Sparks RSJ, Harford C, Lejeune AM, McGuire WJ, Miller AD, Murphy MD, Norton G, Stevens NF, Young SR (1998) The explosive eruption of Soufrière Hills volcano, Montserrat, West Indies, 17 September, 1996. Geophys Res Lett 25(18):3429–3432

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Rosi M, Vezzoli L, Castelmenzano A, Grieco, G (1999) Plinian pumice fall deposit of the Campanian Ignimbrite eruption (Phlegraean Fields, Italy). J Volcanol Geotherm Res 91:179–198

  • Sapper K (1927) Vulkankunde. J Engelhorns Nachf, Stuttgart, p. 424

    Google Scholar 

  • Self S, Sparks RSJ (1978) Characteristics of pyroclastic deposits formed by the interaction of silicic magma and water. Bull Volcanol 41:196–212

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Siebert L, Simkin T, Kimberly P (2010) Volcanoes of the world. University of California Press, Berkeley

    Google Scholar 

  • Sonder (1937) Zur Theorie und Klassifikation der eruptiven vulkanischen Vorgänge. Geol Rundschau 27:499–458

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Sparks RSJ (1986) The dimensions and dynamics of volcanic eruption colums. Bull Volcanol 48:3–15

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Sparks RSJ, Bursik MI, Carey SN, Gilbert JS, Glaze LS, Sigurdsson H, Woods AW (1997) Volcanic Plumes. John Wiley & Sons, Chichester, p. 574

    Google Scholar 

  • Thorarinsson S (1944) Petrokronologista Studier pa Island. Geographes Annuales Stockholm 26:1–217

    Google Scholar 

  • Valentine GA, Gregg TKP (2008) Continental basaltic volcanoes—processes and problems. J Volcanol Geotherm Res 177(4):857–873

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Viccaro M, Calcagno R, Garozzo I, Giuffrida M, Nicotra E (2015) Continuous magma recharge at Mt. Etna during the 2011–2013 period controls the style of volcanic activity and compositions of erupted lavas. Miner Petrol 109:67–83. doi:10.1007/s00710-014-0352-4

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Vidal CM, Komorowski JC, Métrich N, Pratomo I, Kartadinata N, Prambada O, Michel A, Carazzo G, Lavigne F, Rodysill J (2015) Dynamics of the major plinian eruption of Samalas in 1257 AD (Lombok, Indonesia). Bull Volcanol 77(9):1–24

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Walker GPL (1973) Explosive volcanic eruptions—a new classification scheme. Geol Rundsch 62:431–446

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Walker GPL (1980) The Taupo pumice: product of the most powerful known (ultraplinian) eruption? J Volcanol Geotherm Res 8:69–94

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Williams H, McBirney AR (1979) Volcanology. Freeman, Cooper, San Francisco, CA, p. 397

    Google Scholar 

  • Woods A, Bokhove O, De Boer A, Hill B (2006) Compressible magma flow in a two-dimensional elastic-walled dike. Earth Planet Sci Lett 246(3–4):241–250

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Wright JV, Smith AL, Self S (1980) A working terminology of pyroclastic deposits. J Volcanol Geotherm Res 8(2–4):315–336

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Yokoyama I (1956) Energetics in active volcanoes. 1st paper (activity of volcano Mihara, Ooshima Island during the period 1953-54). Tokyo University Earthquake Research Institute Bulleting 34:185–196

    Google Scholar 

  • Yokoyama I (1957a) Energetics in active volcanoes. 2nd paper. Tokyo University Earthquake Research Institute Bulleting 35:75–97

    Google Scholar 

  • Yokoyama I (1957b) Energetics in active volcanoes. 3rd paper. Tokyo University Earthquake Research Institute Bulleting 35:99–107

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgments

The workshop was made possible by the financial support of the Measuring and Modelling of Volcano Eruption Dynamics (MeMoVolc) ESF Network and of the Earth Sciences Department of the University of Geneva. We thank also James White, Ray Cas, Marcus Bursik and an anonymous reviewer for constructive comments that improved the final manuscript.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to C. Bonadonna.

Additional information

Editorial responsibility: J.D.L. White

Appendix A

Appendix A

Examples of descriptions and classifications of volcanic eruptions

Eruption classification needs to be fit for purpose (e.g. scientific understanding, hazard/risk assessment, communication with public, civil defence institutions and scientific community) and clear and simple enough to promote accurate transfer of knowledge and scientific exchange. It might vary depending on whether the classification is based on direct observations (i.e. real time) or on volcanic deposits (i.e. post-eruption). In particular, in real time, classification should be based on quantitative observations of phenomena (Table 3), while, for post-eruption descriptions, classification should be based on the quantification of volcanic products and deposit-derived parameters (Table 4). Here, we present some concrete examples developed by workshop participants. For two eruptions (i.e. Montserrat, 17 September 1996; Etna, 12 January 2011), we provide both types of descriptions (real time and post-eruption).

Examples of real-time descriptions

Gas piston event at Pu’u ‘O’o, Hawaii (23 February 2002)

Basaltic lava flow from vent at foot of Pu’u ‘O’o south wall begins at 19:59 and extends 100 m east by 20:15 (5 m wide proximally). A bulk volume flow rate of 0.26 m3 s−1 for the lava flow was derived based on an emplacement duration of 16 min, which can be converted into a MER value of 414 ± 219 kg s−1 by using the vesicle-corrected density of Harris et al. (1998) (i.e. 1590 ± 840 kg m−3). Continuous spattering at vent was observed throughout emplacement. Spattering transits to bubble bursts at 20:41. Bursts increase in frequency to more than 1 per second by 20:45. At 20:45, bubble bursting and lava emission terminated by onset of gas jet with loud roar to 25(?) m. Waning gas jet until 20:15. Vertical blue gas jet with few diffuse, small (cm-sized) incandescent particles. Spatter-bubble-jet cycle recommences; next jet at 21:16. It was classified as gas piston event type “c” according to Marchetti and Harris (2008). Gas flux was not measured.

Montserrat, West Indies (17 September 1996)

A major phase of lava dome collapse began at 11:30 am on the 17 September 1996, continued for 9 h and waned after 8:30 pm. The explosive eruption began at 11:42 pm and had finished by 00:30 am on 18 September. Seismic energy on the RSAM record peaked at about midnight and then declined exponentially. A vertical plume was intercepted by a commercial jet at 11.3 km, which is associated with a dense rock equivalent (DRE) discharge rate of magma of 1300 m3 s−1 (based on Sparks et al. 1997). Assuming a constant discharge rate over the whole 48-min duration, a DRE volume of about 3.7 × 106 m3 was obtained. From weather satellite images (Satellite Analysis Branch of NOAA/NESDIS), plume transport was both to the west and to the east by regional trade and antitrade winds with a maximum speed at tropopause of 17 m s−1. Pumice and lithic lapilli fell widely across southern Montserrat. Classified as small-moderate based on plume height and MER according to Bonadonna and Costa (2013).

Etna, Italy (12 January 2011)

The eruption began with intermittent bubble explosions with increasing frequency and intensity from the evening of 11 January to 21:40 GMT of 12 January and intermittent fountains from 21:40 to 21:50 GMT (first phase). From 21:50 to 23:15 GMT, a transition to sustained fountains was observed with a peak magma jet height of 800 m and tephra plume height 9 km (second—paroxysmal—phase); a lava flow was also observed in the evening of 12 January. Small intermittent bubble explosions were again observed from 23:15 to 23:30 GMT, and low-intensity effusive activity and irregular low-frequency bubble explosions were observed up to 04:15 GMT (third phase).

Examples of post-eruption descriptions

Montserrat, West Indies (17 September 1996; fully described by Robertson et al. (1998))

On 17 September 1996, the Soufriere Hills Volcano started a period of dome collapse involving about 12 × 106 m3 (DRE) of andesitic lava. A peak plume height of 14–15 km was derived based on the largest pumice clasts (from the model of Carey and Sparks 1986). The height estimate indicates a DRE discharge rate of magma of 4300 m3 s−1 (based on Sparks et al. 1997). Wind speed averaged over plume rise was about 6–8 m s−1. An approximate DRE volume of andesitic tephra fallout of about 3.2 × 106 m3 was derived assuming a peak discharge rate of 4300 m3 s−1 and an exponential decay of discharge rate with a decay constant of 12 ± 3 min. Magma water content was of 2.5–5 %. Ejecta consists of moderate (density = 1160 kg m−3) to poorly (density = 1300 to 2000 kg m−3) vesicular juveniles, dense non-vesicular glassy clasts (density = 2600 kg m−3), breccias cut by tuffisite veins and hydrothermally altered lithics (mean density = 2480 kg m−3). A maximum launch velocity of 180 m s−1 is estimated for 1.2-m diameter dense blocks ejected to 2.1-km distance by using projectile models (Fagents and Wilson 1993; Bower and Woods 1996). Based on plume height and magma discharge rate, the explosive eruption can be classified as small-moderate to sub-Plinian based on plume height and MER according to Bonadonna and Costa (2013).

Etna, Italy (12 January 2011—paroxysmal phase; fully described by Calvari et al. (2011), Andronico et al. (2014a) and Viccaro et al. (2015))

Sustained fountains of potassic trachybasaltic magma occurred between 21:50 to 23:15 GMT on 12 January 2011 that were associated with a peak magma jet height of 800 m, a tephra plume height 9 km and the emplacement of a lava flow. A mass of erupted tephra fallout of 1.5 ± 0.4 × 108 kg was derived averaging values obtained from the method of Pyle (1989), Fierstein and Nathenson (1992), Bonadonna and Houghton (2005) and Bonadonna and Costa (2012) (without considering the cone fraction), and a MER of 2.5 ± 0.7 × 104 kg s−1 was obtained dividing the erupted mass by the duration of the paroxysmal phase (100 min). The total grain size distribution peaked at −3 ϕ with a range between −5 and 5 ϕ was derived applying the Voronoi Tessellation of Bonadonna and Houghton (2005). Winds were blowing with almost constant direction from the NNE and intensity of 16, 15, 86 and 95 knots, at 3, 5, 7 and 9 km a.s.l. (http://weather.uwyo.edu/). It was classified as violent Strombolian based on Walker (1973) and small-moderate based on plume height and MER according to Bonadonna and Costa (2013).

Vesuvius, Italy (plinian phase of the AD 79 Pompeii eruption; fully described by Carey and Sigurdsson (1987) and Cioni et al. (1992, 1995, 1999))

The tephra-fallout deposit associated with the AD 79 Pompeii eruption consists of two main units, compositionally zoned and south-easterly dispersed, intercalated with PDC deposits in proximal areas. Deposit density for both units is 490 kg m−3 in proximal area (<20 km, Mdphi < −2) and 1020 kg m−3 in distal area (>20 km, Mdphi > −1). A polymodal cumulative total grain size distribution was derived based on the integration of isomass maps of individual size categories and on the method of crystal concentration of Walker (1980). Mode values of individual grain size populations are −2.8, −0.8 and 5 ϕ, respectively.

White pumice fallout: simple, massive, reversely graded, bearing accidental lithic fragments (mainly limestone and marbles) from the volcano basement and cognate lithics (mainly lava) (wt% lithics averaged over the whole deposit = 10.3). Magma composition = K-phonolite; 10–15 vol% phenocrysts; peak plume height = 26 km (based on the method of Carey and Sparks 1986); MER = 8 × 107 kg s−1 (derived from plume height applying the model of Sparks 1986); tephra volume = 1.1 km3 (applying the method of Fierstein and Nathenson 1992); wind direction = N145; wind speed = 28 m s−1 (based on the method of Carey and Sparks 1986); maximum measured thickness = 120 cm at 10 km from vent. Classified as Plinian based on the diagram of Walker (1973).

Grey pumice fallout: simple stratified pumice-rich deposit with four ash-bearing, plane to cross laminated, PDC beds interlayered (wt% lithics averaged over the whole deposit = 11.8). Magma composition = K-tephritic phonolite; 16–20 vol% phenocrysts; peak plume height = 32 km (based on the method of Carey and Sparks 1986); MER = 1.5 × 108 kg s−1 (derived from plume height applying the model of Sparks (1986)), tephra volume = 1.8 km3 (applying the method of Fierstein and Nathenson 1992); wind direction = N145; wind speed = 31 m s−1 (based on the method of Carey and Sparks 1986); max measured thickness = 160 cm at 10 km from vent. Classified as Plinian based on the diagram of Walker (1973).

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Bonadonna, C., Cioni, R., Costa, A. et al. MeMoVolc report on classification and dynamics of volcanic explosive eruptions. Bull Volcanol 78, 84 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00445-016-1071-y

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s00445-016-1071-y

Keywords

  • Volcanism
  • Eruption dynamics
  • Eruption classification
  • Eruptive products
  • Eruptive processes
  • Eruptive styles