Magmatic gas percolation through the old lava dome of El Misti volcano
The proximity of the major city of Arequipa to El Misti has focused attention on the hazards posed by the active volcano. Since its last major eruption in the fifteenth century, El Misti has experienced a series of modest phreatic eruptions and fluctuating fumarolic activity. Here, we present the first measurements of the compositions of gas emitted from the lava dome in the summit crater. The gas composition is found to be fairly dry with a H2O/SO2 molar ratio of 32 ± 3, a CO2/SO2 molar ratio of 2.7 ± 0.2, a H2S/SO2 molar ratio of 0.23 ± 0.02 and a H2/SO2 molar ratio of 0.012 ± 0.002. This magmatic gas signature with minimal evidence of hydrothermal or wall rock interaction points to a shallow magma source that is efficiently outgassing through a permeable conduit and lava dome. Field and satellite observations show no evolution of the lava dome over the last decade, indicating sustained outgassing through an established fracture network. This stability could be disrupted if dome permeability were to be reduced by annealing or occlusion of outgassing pathways. Continued monitoring of gas composition and flux at El Misti will be essential to determine the evolution of hazard potential at this dangerous volcano.
KeywordsVolcanic hazard Arequipa Outgassing ASTER Multi-GAS Trail by fire
Lava domes are the extruded part of a magma risen through a conduit. Typically associated with silicic (rhyolitic to andesitic) magmas, lava domes are often unstable and capable of generating pyroclastic density currents. Dome collapse events have been documented at volcanoes such as Soufrière Hills (Montserrat; e.g. Watts et al., 2002), Mount Unzen (Japan; e.g. Sato et al., 1992), Mount St. Helens (USA; e.g. Mellors et al., 1988) and Merapi (Indonesia; e.g. Komorowski et al., 2013). Critical in determining whether or not an otherwise gravitationally stable dome will become overpressured and collapse is the nature of magmatic outgassing through either the conduit wall or fracture networks (e.g. Jaupart and Allègre, 1991; Gonnermann and Manga, 2003; Boudon et al., 2015). While such considerations have been explored theoretically (e.g. Sparks, 1997; Melnik and Sparks, 1999, 2005; Hale and Mühlhaus, 2007) the inherent hazard associated with working on active lava domes has limited in situ collection of data on gas compositions, limiting data to that from remote sensing observations (e.g. Oppenheimer et al., 2002; Edmonds et al., 2003; Holland et al., 2011) with only a few direct measurements (e.g Soufrière Hills; Hammouya et al., 1998).
Despite a number of studies emphasising the hazards and risks of future volcanic activity of El Misti (e.g. Sandri et al., 2014), very little work has focused on its ongoing outgassing. Here, we present the first compositional data for the gas plume emitted from the El Misti lava dome together with an analysis of photographic, thermal camera and satellite images. We evaluate the results in terms of outgassing behaviour and the implications for hazard evolution.
In situ gas measurements
Gas composition data were obtained using a portable Multi-GAS instrument (Shinohara, 2005) deployed directly inside the crater and on the dome of El Misti (S 16° 17′ 57.22″; W 71° 24′ 20.69″; 5600 m a.s.l.). The instrument incorporated SO2, H2S and H2 electrochemical sensors. The SO2 and H2 sensors have calibration range of 0–200 ppmv while the H2S sensor had a calibration range of 0–100 ppmv. An NDIR sensor was used for CO2 and calibrated for 0–10,000 ppmv with an accuracy ±2%. A relative humidity (R.H.) sensor (Galltec) was used to measure H2O, providing a measuring range of 0–100% R.H. with an accuracy of ±2%.
Infrared and visible camera
Thermal infrared images were acquired from within the crater rim pointing at the dome. Images were taken using an OPTRIS PI400 camera (spectral range of 7.5–13 μm with an optical resolution of 382 × 288 pixels), fitted with an 8-mm lens providing a FOV of 62°×48°. Thermal images were acquired on 1 December 2015 using the temperature range setting of −20 to 100 °C.
Photographs of the lava dome were acquired from the crater rim by OVI personnel during repeated ascents in the period from 2007 to 2016.
We used land surface temperature maps derived from ASTER thermal images (AST08 Land Surface Temperature, or LST, product at 90 m/pixel spatial resolution), short wavelength infrared Advanced Land Imager (ALI) images (nine bands from 0.4 to 2.4 μm at 30 m/pixel spatial resolution, with a panchromatic band (PAN) at 10 m/pixel spatial resolution—Ungar et al. 2003), Hyperion hyperspectral data (196 usable bands from 0.4 to 2.4 μm at 30 m/pixel spatial resolution) (Pearlman et al. 2003) and high resolution visible images (from Google Earth) to track potential changes in activity at the lava dome in the 15 years leading up to the fieldwork presented here. Hyperion and ALI are on-board NASA’s Earth Observing 1 (EO-1) spacecraft. Observations by EO-1 were obtained via the NASA Volcano Sensor Web (VSW, e.g. Davies et al., 2015), which utilizes advanced spacecraft operations software developed to streamline the process to re-task spacecraft as quickly and efficiently as possible to effect rapid data acquisition of dynamic targets (Chien et al., 2005).
Where Tmax is the maximum temperature in the summit area, and T50% is the 50th percentile (or median) temperature. This gives a measure of the maximum temperature relative to a robust estimate of the surrounding temperature. We limited our study to night time images, when the contrast between cool ground and geothermally heated areas is highest. The LST maps have a resolution of 90 m and allowed us to track changes in temperature over a broad area of the summit of El Misti.
Time series images of the lava dome in the visible where taken from Google Earth from the period of 2002 to 2016 using images from Digital Globe, NASA, Landsat/Copernicus and CNES/Astrium.
Images from the ALI and Hyperion on EO-1 were acquired around the fieldwork period on 11th October and 4th December 2015. Additional ALI images from 2002, 2003 and 2014 were also downloaded from the USGS Earth Explorer archive. All ALI images were processed to level 1T (precision orthorectified product). The short wavelength infrared bands of ALI have a resolution of 30 m, and allow small but very hot features to be identified, however all images were acquired during daytime so small thermal anomalies might be lost amid reflected sunlight. The VSW processes all Hyperion data searching for thermal anomalies (see Davies et al., 2006) using software originally developed to do this thermal emission detection on-board the spacecraft (the Autonomous Sciencecraft Experiment (ASE)—Chien et al., 2005; Davies et al., 2006), and has proved capable of detecting small thermal anomalies even in daylight. The Hyperion pixel brightness temperature detection limits of the ASE thermal classifier software are 426 K at 2.28 μm and 530 K at 1.65 μm (Davies et al., 2006).
X/SO2 molar and mass ratios measured by multi-gas and gas composition of the mixed plume at El Misti volcano. Error are expressed as the standard error of the regression analysis and subsequent error propagation
Mixed plume molar ratio (X/SO2)
Mixed plume mass ratio (X/SO2)
Mixed plume composition (mol%)
Parodi (1966) estimated the fumarole gas temperatures at over 250 °C (unknown date) stating that sulphur appeared melted in the sources’ emission gaps. Birnie and Hall (1974) estimated fumaroles temperatures of 100–125 °C while Thouret et al. (2001) indicate a maximum temperature of 220 °C measured in December 1997. In 2013 OVI personnel measured fumaroles temperatures between 270 and 310 °C. In 2015, our thermal camera measurements indicate a temperature in excess of 125 °C (temperature at which the image saturated). Given the distance at which the image was acquired and the small size of the vents, fumarole temperatures in excess of 200 °C are expected. Inspection of short wave infrared images from the ALI on EO-1 acquired in 2002, 2003, 2014 and 2015 reveals the presence of a small plume above the dome, but no thermal anomaly. This observation, together with the absence of incandescence observed on the dome at night, suggests vent temperatures below around 600 °C (basaltic rock is known to glow red at ∼700 °C; Decker and Christiansen, 1984).
Time series observations
A magmatic gas signature
Solution yields an equilibrium temperature of 532 °C and a logfO2 equivalent to ΔQFM = +2.8 (where QFM refers to the quartz-fayalite-magnetite buffer, and where ΔQFM = logfO2−logfO2 of QFM at corresponding temperature) or ΔNNO = +2.0 (where NNO refers to the nickel-nickel oxide buffer, and where ΔNNO = logfO2 −logfO2 of NNO at corresponding temperature). Error on the measured gas ratios, especially on the H2/SO2 ratio results in non-symmetrical uncertainty of −96 and +133 °C on the equilibrium temperature and of −1.2 and +1.2 log units on the deviation from the QFM or NNO buffer. Equations for the QFM and NNO buffer used here are from Frost, (1991). The value of fH2O used here is 0.88 given that at 1 bar the fugacity of a gas is equal to its partial pressure and that P(H2O) = (Ptot × nH2O)/ntot = [(1 bar)(0.88ntot)]/(ntot) = 0.88 bar.
The equilibrium temperature of 532 °C is higher than the temperature at which scrubbing of magmatic gases by hydrothermal systems is expected to become significant (Symonds et al., 2001; Gerlach et al., 2008) giving confidence that the reported gas composition has not been affected by secondary processes other than cooling. The high oxidation state preserved by the gases further indicates limited interaction with low temperature rock (Giggenbach, 1987). The absence of contamination of the dome gas composition by hydrothermal fluids is consistent with the idea of Finizola et al., (2004) who suggested that the hydrothermal system at El Misti is sealed by hydrothermal alteration. The clear magmatic signature and high equilibrium temperature of the emitted gases, together with their high exit temperature (270–310 °C), suggest a relatively shallow magmatic source (see model from Stevenson, 1993). While the current composition of the magmatic source is unknown it may be similar to either the rhyolitic or andesitic magmas that interacted during the ca 2050 BP eruption (Tepley et al., 2013). Tepley et al. (2013) estimated the temperature of the andesitic magma at 940 ± 40 °C using pyroxenes pairs thermometry and the temperature of the rhyolitic magma at 816 ± 30 °C using groundmass ilmenite and magnetite thermometry. The temperature recorded by the gas composition (Eqs. 2–3) represent the temperature at which the gases were last in equilibrium and hence falls between the temperature of the vents and that of the magma.
A permeable conduit and stable outgassing pathway
While the exact date at which the lava dome formed within the crater is unknown, reports of fumarolic activity date back to the last magmatic eruption in 1440–1470 A.D. (Murúa, 1946, 1987). Several periods of increased fumarolic activity have since been reported (Thouret et al., 2001 and references therein) but no major eruptions have occurred, and it can hence be assumed that the current lava dome dates from the fifteenth century. The high equilibrium temperature we derived from the gas composition may partly explain the long-term preservation of permeable pathway through the conduit as the gas flow maintains a temperature too high for extensive precipitation of solids from the gas phase. Another possibility is that the relatively dry gas composition (unaffected by the hydrothermal system) is not prone to mineral precipitation before extensive cooling. The flux of gas coming out of the dome is fairly low (see discussion below) and it would hence be surprising if the gas pressure was responsible for maintaining a permeable fracture network.
Implications for hazards and volcanic monitoring
The current ‘stable’ activity suggests an opportunity in terms of monitoring and hazard assessment in the sense that the gas composition, being largely unaffected by hydrothermal and scrubbing processes, would quickly respond to any changes happening in the magmatic system or conduit. For instance, a change of the temperature or composition of the magma following a recharge event—such as inferred for the last Plinian eruption in ca 2050 BC (Tepley et al., 2013)—should produce a measurable change in the equilibrium temperature and oxidation state of the gases. A change in the established outgassing pathways by fracture healing (e.g. Heap et al., 2015) or pore network collapse (e.g. Kennedy et al., 2016), for instance, could result in a decrease of the total gas flux. Visual observations (Fig. 4) point toward a very low SO2 flux at present, probably <50 t/day, rendering measurements by UV-based SO2 flux measurements challenging but maybe not impossible.
The report of phreatic eruptions since the fifteenth century (11 possible events, occurring in 1542?, 1599?, 2 May 1677, 9 July 1784, 28 July and 10 October 1787, August 1826?, August 1830 and 1831?, September 1869, and March 1870? see Parodi, 1966; Simkin and Siebert, 1994 and references therein) begs the question of their origin. The measured gas composition indicates that the current outgassing is isolated from the surrounding hydrothermal system. One hypothesis would be that following periods of increased precipitation, groundwater could interact with the hot magmatic gases generating small eruptions. Confirmed events do not however seem to occur preferentially in the rainy season. In the case of El Misti another hypothesis is that most recorded phreatic eruptions rather refer to periods of increased magmatic gas release either following a transient sealing then opening of the outgassing pathway or an increased flux of magmatic gas from depth. Distinguishing the relative roles of groundwater and magmatic fluids based on these historical observations recorded from a distance is not possible, and neither hypothesis can be dismissed. Both scenarios however would follow a perturbation of the system that has not been seen over our observational period.
We measured the composition of gases emitted by El Misti in December 2015 and examined the evolution of the lava dome using satellite and direct observations dating back to 2002. The gas composition is indicative of magmatic outgassing with negligible contamination from a hydrothermal system. Together with the apparent stability of the lava dome and fumarolic field through time this implies the efficient release of magmatic gases from the reservoir to the surface through an established fracture network. Future gas monitoring campaigns will be worthwhile in order to track any potential evolution of the magmatic system and conduit.
This research was conducted as part of the ‘Trail By Fire’ expedition (PI: Y. Moussallam). The project was supported by the Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers) with the Land Rover Bursary; the Deep Carbon Observatory DECADE Initiative; Santander, Ocean Optics; Crowcon; Air Liquide; Thermo Fisher Scientific; Cactus Outdoor; Turbo Ace and Team Black Sheep. We thank Jean-loup Guyot, Sebastien Carretier, Rose-Marie Ojeda, Pablo Samaniego and Jean-Luc Lepennec together with IRD South-America personnel for all their logistical help. We are extremely grateful to Marco Rivera and all OVI personnel for their help and support. YM acknowledges support from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography Postdoctoral Fellowship program. A.A and G.T acknowledge the ERC grant no. 305377 (BRIDGE). CIS acknowledges a research start-up grant from Victoria University of Wellington. C.O. is supported by the NERC Centre for the Observation and Modelling of Earthquakes, Volcanoes and Tectonics. The Earth Observing-1 (EO-1) spacecraft is managed by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland, USA. We thank Daniel Tran, Steve Chien and Joshua Doubleday (all JPL) and Stuart Frye (GSFC) for their assistance in acquiring EO-1 data. We are very grateful to James White, Patrick Allard and an anonymous reviewer for comments which significantly improved the quality of this manuscript.
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