Petrologic constraints on the decompression history of magma prior to Vulcanian explosions at the Soufrière Hills volcano, Montserrat

Amanda Clarke, S. Stephens, R. Teasdale, R. S J Sparks, K. Diller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

106 Scopus citations


A series of 88 Vulcanian explosions occurred at the Soufrière Hills volcano, Montserrat, between August and October, 1997. Conduit conditions conducive to creating these and other Vulcanian explosions were explored via analysis of eruptive products and one-dimensional numerical modeling of magma ascent through a cylindrical conduit. The number densities and textures of plagioclase microlites were documented for twenty-three samples from the events. The natural samples all show very high number densities of microlites, and > 50% by number of microlites have areas < 20 μm2. Pre-explosion conduit conditions and decompression history have been inferred from these data by comparison with experimental decompressions of similar groundmass compositions. Our comparisons suggest quench pressures < 30 MPa (origin depths < 2 km) and multiple rapid decompressions of > 13.75 MPa each during ascent from chamber to surface. Values are consistent with field studies of the same events and statistical analysis of explosion time-series data. The microlite volume number density trend with depth reveals an apparent transition from growth-dominated crystallization to nucleation-dominated crystallization at pressures of ∼ 7 MPa and lower. A concurrent sharp increase in bulk density marks the onset of significant open-system degassing, apparently due to a large increase in system permeability above ∼ 70% vesicularity. This open-system degassing results in a dense plug which eventually seals the conduit and forms conditions favorable to Vulcanian explosions. The corresponding inferred depth of overpressure at 250-700 m, near the base of the dense plug, is consistent with depth to center of pressure estimated from deformation measurements. Here we also illustrate that one-dimensional models representing ascent of a degassing, crystal-rich magma are broadly consistent with conduit profiles constructed via our petrologic analysis. The comparison between models and petrologic data suggests that the dense conduit plug forms as a result of high overpressure and open-system degassing through conduit walls.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)261-274
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 1 2007


  • Vulcanian
  • conduit dynamics
  • conduit modelling
  • explosive eruptions
  • quench pressure

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • Geochemistry and Petrology


Dive into the research topics of 'Petrologic constraints on the decompression history of magma prior to Vulcanian explosions at the Soufrière Hills volcano, Montserrat'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this