Investigation of a hydrothermal blast - 2012 Tongariro eruption

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Cristian Montanaro
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Available online 20 August 2016 Editor: T.A. Mather Keywords: Te Maari hydrothermal eruption experimental fragmentation explosive energy ballistics Sudden hydrothermal eruptions occur in many volcanic settings and may include high-energy explosive phases. Ballistics launched by such events, together with ash plumes and pyroclastic density currents, generate deadly proximal hazards. The violence of hydrothermal eruptions (or explosive power) depends on the energy available within the driving-fluids (gas or liquid), which also influences the explosive mechanisms, volumes, durations, and products of these eruptions. Experimental studies in addition to analytical modeling were used here to elucidate the fragmentation mechanism and aspects of energy balance within hydrothermal eruptions. We present results from a detailed study of recent event that occurred on the 6th of August 2012 at Upper Te Maari within the Tongariro volcanic complex (New Zealand). The eruption was triggered by a landslide from this area, which set off a rapid stepwise decompression of the hydrothermal system. Explosive blasts were directed both westward and eastward of the collapsed area, with a vertical ash plume sourced from an adjacent existing crater. All explosions ejected blocks on ballistic trajectories, hundreds of which impacted New Zealand's most popular hiking trail and a mountain lodge, 1.4 km from the explosion locus. We have employed rocks representative of the eruption source area to perform rapid decompression experiments under controlled laboratory conditions that mimic hydrothermal explosions under controlled laboratory conditions. An experimental apparatus for 34 by 70 mm cylindrical samples was built to reduce the influence of large lithic enclaves (up to 30 mm in diameter) within the rock. The experiments were conducted in a temperature range of 250 • C–300 • C and applied pressure between 4 MPa and 6.5 MPa, which span the range of expected conditions below the Te Maari crater. Within this range we tested rapid decompression of pre-saturated samples from both liquid-dominated conditions and the vapor-dominated field. Further, we tested dry samples at the same pressure and temperature conditions. Results showed that host rock lithology and state of the interstitial fluid was a major influence on the fragmentation and ejection processes, as well as the energy partitioning. Clasts were ejected with velocities of up to 160 m/s as recorded by high-speed camera. In addition to rare large clasts (analogous to ballistics), a large amount of fine and very fine (<63 μm) ash was produced in all experiments. The efficiency of transformation of the total explosive energy into fragmentation energy was estimated between 10 to 15%, depending on the host rock lithology, while less than 0.1% of this was converted into kinetic energy. Our results suggest that liquid-to-vapor (flashing) expansion provides an order of magnitude higher energy release than steam expansion, which best explains the dynamics of the westward (and most energetic) directed blast at Te Maari. Considering the steam flashing as the primary energy source, the experiments suggested that a minimum explosive energy of 7 × 10 10 to 2 × 10 12 J was involved in the Te Maari blast. Experimental studies under controlled conditions, compared closely to a field example are thus highly useful in providing new insights into the energy release and hazards associated with eruptions in hydrothermal areas.
Eric Breard
added 2 research items
The ballistic ejection of blocks during explosive eruptions constitutes a major hazard near active volcanoes. Fields of ballistic clasts can provide important clues towards quantifying the energy, dynamics and directionality of explosive events, but detailed datasets are rare. During the 6 August 2012 hydrothermal eruption of Upper Te Maari (Tongariro), New Zealand, three explosions occurred in rapid succession within less than 20 seconds. The first two produced laterally-directed pyroclastic density currents (PDC), and the final vertical explosion generated an ash plume. Each of these explosions was associated with the ejection of ballistic blocks. We present detailed maps of the resulting 5.1 km2 block impact field and the distribution of the > 2200 impact craters with diameters > 2.5 m. There are two distinct regions of high crater concentration, where crater densities reach more than six times the average background density. These occur at distances of 500-700 m east and 1000-1350 west of a 430-m-long fissure that was created during the eruption. The high-density fields are characterized by a narrow radial spread of < 45 degrees and are located along the proximal transport direction of the pyroclastic density currents. A provenance analysis of ballistic blocks allowed reconstruct two different eruptive vents for the explosions. The first two laterally-directed explosions were sourced from the fissure, while the third explosion occurred through the pre-existing Upper Te Maari Crater, generating a roughly axisymmetric shower of ballistics. Stratigraphic relationships between impact craters, PDC and fall deposit suggest that the ballistic blocks were initially coupled with the rapidly expanding gas-particle mixtures that produced the PDCs. Ballistic trajectory modeling, reproducing the lateral extent and main impact density pattern of the western impact field, allows estimation of the vertical expansion angle of the second and largest explosion. The calculations show that the largest proportion of the explosion energy was strongly focused as a narrow and extremely shallow (from -3 to 15 degrees from the horizontal) laterally expanding hydrothermal blast. The results presented here constitute an important data set for ballistic hazard assessment at Tongariro volcano and they can provide further clues towards better understanding highly energetic laterally directed volcanic explosions at similar hydrothermal fields.
The 2012 eruption of Tongariro volcano (New Zealand) produced highly mobile, low-temperature, blast-derived pyroclastic density currents after partial collapse of the western flank of the Upper Te Maari crater. Despite a low volume (340,000 m3), the flows traveled up to 2.5 km from source, covering a total area of 6.1 km2. Along one of the blast axes, freshly exposed, proximal-to-distal sedimentary structures and grain-size data suggest emplacement of the fining upward tripartite depositional sequence (massive, stratified, and laminated) under a dilute and strongly longitudinally zoned turbulent density current. While the zoning formed in the deposit in the first 1500 m of runout, the current progressively waned to the extent where it transported a nearly homogenous grain-size mixture at the liftoff position. Our data indicate that after the passage of an erosive flow front, massive unit A was deposited under a rapid-suspension sedimentation regime. Unit B was deposited under a traction-dominated regime generated by a subsequent portion of the flow moving at lower velocities and with lower sediment transport capacity than the portion depositing unit A. The final and slowest flow zone deposited the finest particles under weakly tractive conditions. Transport and emplacement dynamics inferred in this study show strong similarities between hydrothermal explosions, magmatic blasts, and high-energy dilute PDCs. The common occurrence of hydrothermal fields on volcanic flanks points to this hazard being an under-appreciated one at stratovolcanoes worldwide.