In situ production of ash in pyroclastic flows

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Abstract

[1] Abrasion and comminution of pumice clasts during the propagation of pyroclastic flows have long been recognized as a potential source for the enhanced production of volcanic ash, however, their relative importance has eluded quantification. The amount of ash produced in situ can potentially affect runout distance, deposit sorting, the volume of ash introduced in the upper atmosphere, and internal pore pressure. We conduct a series of laboratory experiments on the collisional and frictional production of ash that may occur during different regimes of pyroclastic flow transport. Ash produced in these experiments is predominately 10–100 microns in size and has similar morphology to tephra fall ash from Plinian events. We find that collisional ash production rates are proportional to the square of impact velocity. Frictional ash production rates are a linear function of the velocity of the basal, particle-enriched bed load region of these flows. Using these laboratory experiments we develop a subgrid model for ash production that can be included in analytical and multiphase numerical procedures to estimate the total volume of ash produced during transport. We find that for most flow conditions, 10–20% of the initial clasts comminute into ash with the percentage increasing as a function of initial flow energy. Most of the ash is produced in the high-energy regions near the flow inlet, although flow acceleration on steep slopes can produce ash far from the vent. On level terrain, collisionally and frictionally produced ash generates gravity currents that detach from the main flow and can more than double the effective runout distance of these flows. Ash produced at the frictional base of the flow and in the collisional upper regions of the flow can be redistributed through the entirety of the flow, although frictionally produced ash accumulates preferentially near its source in the bed load. Flows that descend steep slopes produce the majority of their ash in the collisonally dominant flow head and flow snouts likely develop subangular to rounded pumice during this process.

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