Using microlites to gain insights into ascent conditions of differing styles of volcanism at Soufrière Hills Volcano
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Microlite textural characteristics are analyzed in the products of Vulcanian explosions, ash venting occurring synchronously with lava effusion (syn-extrusive ash venting), a precursory explosion, and lava dome effusion associated with Phases 3, and 5 of the current Soufrière Hills Volcano (SHV) eruption. 2D microlite population statistics and crystal size distributions are used to infer decompression pathways for each style of volcanism. In addition, magma ascent rates for each eruptive style were calculated using microlite number density (Toramaru et al. 2008). Strong differences between pyroclastic and effusive microlites are observed in 2D population statistics and crystal size distributions, indicating higher amounts of smaller microlites (<0.0054 mm) in the lava dome compared with pyroclastic products. Crystal size distributions show that the lava dome and Vulcanian explosion samples have similar amounts of large microlites (>0.0084 to 0.012 mm). However, syn-extrusive ash venting samples have comparatively greater amounts of large microlites. The similarity between lava dome and Vulcanian explosions at larger microlite sizes suggests comparable crystallization conditions in the deeper conduit system (>2 km depth). The contrast in eruption style despite similarity at depth suggests a shallow control to eruption processes at SHV. The greater amounts of large microlites in syn-extrusive ash venting compared to the lava dome indicates two distinct decompression pathways within a single conduit, inferred to result from differences in ascent rate. Sluggish conduit margin ascent leading to lower decompression rates is inferred to produce the increased degree of crystal growth observed in syn-extrusive ash venting compared with the lava dome. Calculated magma ascent rates for Vulcanian explosions and syn-extrusive ash venting have similar ranges, while lava effusion is up to a factor of 10 faster. Differences in magma ascent rate are inferred to result from variations in the depth at which ascent rate is calculated for each eruptive style. Ascent rate is calculated at microlite nucleation depth using the method of Toramaru et al. (2008). However, the average microlite nucleation depth will vary because of differences in microlite nucleation rate during ascent. More small microlites in the lava dome suggest greater nucleation rates in the shallow conduit, recording an on average shallower magma ascent rate (<1 km depth). Rapid decompression during pyroclastic eruptions restricts shallow crystallization, suggesting the microlite population is on average recording the deeper conduit system (>2 km depth).
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