Grain size variations in ignimbrites and implications for the transport of pyroclastic flows



Ignimbrite flow units commonly show reverse grading of large pumice clasts and normal grading of large lithic clasts. Ignimbrites show coarse-tail grading, in which particles beneath a critical diameter, ranging from 64 to 2 mm, are ungraded. Above this size the larger the clast diameter the more pronounced the segregation. The grading is consistent with the theoretical settling rates of particles in a dispersion with a high particle concentration. Ignimbrite flow units show a reversely graded, fine grained basal layer which is attributed to the action of boundary forces during flow. Ignimbrites are commonly associated with cross-stratified pyroclastic surge deposits and fine ash fall deposits formed in the same eruption. The fine ash fall deposit is depleted in crystals and is thought to be the deposit of the fine turbulent cloud observed making up the upper parts of nuées ardentes.

Pyroclastic flows are postulated to be dense, poorly expanded partly fluidized debris flows. Only its fine grained components can be fluidized by gas. Pyroclastic flows are believed to behave as a dispersion of larger clasts in a medium of fluidized fines, which acts as a lubricant similar to water in mud-flows. Poor sorting in ignimbrites is attributed to high particle concentrations not turbulence. Many pyroclastic flows may be laminar in their movement with apparent viscosities, deduced from the lateral grading of large lithic clasts, in the range 101−103 poise.