Delayed, disequilibrium degassing in rhyolite magma: Decompression experiments and implications for explosive volcanism

Earth and Planetary Science Letters
By:  and 



Recent numerical models and analog shock tube experiments show that disequilibrium degassing during magma ascent may lead to violent vesiculation very near the surface. In this study a series of decompression experiments using crystal-free, rhyolite melt were conducted to examine the development of large supersaturations due to delayed, homogenous (spontaneous) bubble nucleation. Melts were saturated at 900??C and 200 MPa with either 5.2 wt% dissolved H2O, or with 4.2 wt% H2O and 640 ppm CO2, and isothermally decompressed at linear rates of either 0.003, 0.025, or 8.5 MPa/s to final pressures between 25 and 175 MPa. Additional isobaric saturation experiments (900??C, 200-25 MPa) using pure H2O or mixed H2O-CO2 fluids establish reference equilibrium solubility curves/values. Homogenous nucleation is triggered in both H2O-only and H2O-CO2 experiments once the supersaturation pressure (??Pss) reaches ?? 120-150 MPa and the melt contains ?? two times its equilibrium water contents. Bubble number density and nucleation rate depend on the supersaturation pressure, with values on the order of 102/cm3 and < 1/cm3/s for ??Pss~120 MPa; 106/cm3 and 103-105/cm3/s for ??Pss??~130-150 MPa; and 107/cm3 and 106/cm3/s for ??Pss??160-175 MPa. Nucleation rates are consistent with classical nucleation theory, and infer an activation energy for nucleation of 1.5 x 10-18 J/nucleus, a critical bubble radius of 2 x 10-9 m, and an effective surface tension for rhyolite at 5.2 wt% H2O and 900??C of 0.10-0.11 N/m. The long nucleation delay limits the time available for subsequent diffusion such that disequilibrium dissolved H2O and CO2 contents persist to the end of our runs. The disequilibrium degassing paths inferred from our experiments contrast markedly with the equilibrium or quasi-equilibrium paths found in other studies where bubble nucleation occurs heterogenously on crystals or other discontinuities in the melt at low ??Pss. Homogenous and heterogenous nucleation rates are comparable, however, as are bubble number densities, so that at a given decompression rate it appears that nucleation mechanism, rather than nucleation rate, determines degassing efficiency by fixing the pressure (depth) at which vesiculation commences and hence the time available for equilibration prior to eruption. Although real systems are probably never truly crystal-free, our results show that rhyolitic magmas containing up to 104 crystals/cm3, and perhaps as high as 106 crystals/cm3, are controlled by homogenous, rather than heterogenous, nucleation during ascent. ?? 2000 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.

Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Delayed, disequilibrium degassing in rhyolite magma: Decompression experiments and implications for explosive volcanism
Series title Earth and Planetary Science Letters
DOI 10.1016/S0012-821X(00)00299-5
Volume 183
Issue 3-4
Year Published 2000
Language English
Larger Work Type Article
Larger Work Subtype Journal Article
Larger Work Title Earth and Planetary Science Letters
First page 441
Last page 455