The structures and textures of the rhyolite in the Mule Creek vent (New Mexico, USA) indicate mechanisms by which volatiles escape from silicic magma during eruption. The vent outcrop is a 300-m-high canyon wall comprising a section through the top of a feeder conduit, vent and the base of an extrusive lava dome. Field relations show that eruption began with an explosive phase and ended with lava extrusion. Analyses of glass inclusions in quartz phenocrysts from the lava indicate that the magma had a pre-eruptive dissolved water content of 2.5-3.0 wt% and, during eruption, the magma would have been water-saturated over the vertical extent of the present outcrop. However, the vesicularity of the rhyolite is substantially lower than that predicted from closed-system models of vesiculation under equilibrium conditions. At a given elevation in the vent, the volume fraction of primary vesicles in the rhyolite increases from zero close to the vent margin to values of 20-40 vol.% in the central part. In the centre the vesicularity increases upward from approximately 20 vol.% at 300 m below the canyon rim to approximately 40 vol.% at 200 m, above which it shows little increase. To account for the discrepancy between observed vesicularity and measured water content, we conclude that gas escaped during ascent, probably beginning at depths greater than exposed, by flow through the vesicular magma. Gas escape was most efficient near the vent margin, and we postulate that this is due both to the slow ascent of magma there, giving the most time for gas to escape, and to shear, favouring bubble coalescence. Such shear-related permeability in erupting magma is supported by the preserved distribution of textures and vesicularity in the rhyolite: Vesicles are flattened and overlapping near the dense margins and become progressively more isolated and less deformed toward the porous centre. Local zones have textures which suggest the coalescence of bubbles to form permeable, collapsing foams, implying the former existence of channels for gas migration. Local channelling of gas into the country rocks is suggested by the presence of sub-horizontal syn-eruptive rhyolitic tuffisite veins which depart from the vent margin and invade the adjacent country rock. In the central part of the vent, similar local channelling of gas is indicated by steep syn-eruption tuffisite veins which cut the rhyolite itself. We conclude that the suppression of explosive eruption resulted from gas separation from the ascending magma and vent structure by shear-related porous flow and channelling of gas through tuffisite veins. These mechanisms of gas loss may be responsible for the commonly observed transition from explosive to effusive behaviour during the eruption of silicic magma.
Additional publication details
Degassing during magma ascent in the Mule Creek vent (USA)