Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile
Gaunt H.E., Burgisser A., Mothes P.A., Browning J., Meredith P.G., Criollo E., Bernard B. (2019)

Triggering of the powerful 14 July 2013 Vulcanian explosion at Tungurahua Volcano, Ecuador

Revista : Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research
Páginas : 106762
Tipo de publicación : ISI Ir a publicación


The 14 July 2013 Vulcanian explosion at Tungurahua occurred after two months of quiescence and was extremely powerful, generating some of the highest infrasound energies recorded worldwide. Here we report on how a combination of geophysical data, textural measurements, and physical and mechanical tests on eruptive products allowed us to determine the processes that led to the pressurization of the conduit and triggering of this large Vulcanian event. Two weeks prior to the 14 July event, daily seismic counts and radial tilt began to steadily increase, indicating the probable intrusion of a new batch of magma into the edifice. The 14 July explosion produced three different juvenile products that were each sampled for this study: airfall; juvenile, vesicular, pyroclastic density current material; and dense plug rocks in the form of ballistic ejecta. Feldspar microlite textures and vesicle size distributions were measured, and used jointly with a two-step recompression model to characterize the spatial distribution of gas in the conduit and the decompression histories of the erupted samples. Model results reveal a vertically stratified conduit with regards to porosity, crystallinity and volatile content prior to the explosion. Overall, our data suggests a complex sequence of events that led eventually to this powerful explosion. 1) Remnants of magma from the previous eruptive phase in May stalled in the shallow conduit, triggering crystallization which, coupled with efficient outgassing, formed a dense (< 2% porosity), highly crystalline plug. This plug had a very low matrix permeability (10−17 to 10−18 m2) and high tensile strength (9 to 13 MPa), forming an efficient rigid seal and preventing significant outgassing from the conduit. 2) Just below the plug, a high porosity zone (up to 50%) formed, acting as a gas storage zone, with pressurization occurring partly under closed-system degassing. 3) The shallow conduit became pressurized due to the combination of both gas accumulation and the resistance of the plug to magma column extrusion in response to a new influx of magma. 4) On the 14th of July a critical gas over-pressure was reached, overcoming the strength of the dense plug of magma, trigging extreme decompression and evacuation of the top two kilometres of the conduit. 5) The newly intruded magma was not directly involved in the explosion and continued to ascend during the week following the explosion.