Experimental simulations of explosive degassing of magma
The violent release of volatiles in explosive volcanic eruptions is known to cause fragmentation of magma and acceleration of the resulting mixture of gas and pyroclasts to velocities exceeding 100 m s^(-1) (ref. 1). But the mechanisms underlying bubble nucleation, flow acceleration and fragmentation are complex and poorly understood. To gain insight into these phenomena, we have simulated explosive eruptions using two model systems that generate expansion rates and flow velocities comparable to those observed in erupting volcanos. The key feature of both experiments is the generation of large supersaturations of carbon dioxide in a liquid phase, achieved either by decompressing CO_2-saturated water or by rapid mixing of concentrated K_2CO_3 and HCI solutions. We show that liberation of CO_2 from the aqueous phase is enhanced by violent acceleration of the mixture, which induces strong extensional strain in the developing foam. Fragmentation then occurs when the bubble density and expansion rate are such that the bubble walls rupture. In contrast to conventional models of fragmentation, we find that expansion and acceleration precede—and indeed cause—fragmentation.
© 1994 Nature Publishing Group. Received 28 March; accepted 28 September 1994. This work was supported by the UK National Environmental Research Council, the BP Venture Fund, the US NSF, the California Institute of Technology and the University of Michigan.