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Complex dynamics of small-moderate volcanic events: the example of the 2011 rhyolitic Cordón Caulle eruption, Chile

Pistolesi M., R. Cioni, C. Bonadonna, M. Elissondo, V. Baumann, A. Bertagnini, L. Chiari, R. Gonzales, M. Rosi, L. Francalanci (2015).
Bulletin of Volcanology, Volume 77, Issue 1, doi: 10.1007/s00445-014-0898-3.


After decades of repose, Puyehue-Cordón Caulle Volcano (Chile) erupted in June 2011 following a month of continuously increasing seismic activity. The eruption dispersed a large volume of rhyolitic tephra over a wide area and was characterized by complex dynamics. During the initial climactic phase of the eruption (24–30 h on 4–5 June), 11–14-km-high plumes dispersed most of the erupted tephra eastward towards Argentina, reaching as far as the Atlantic Ocean. This first eruptive phase was followed by activity of lower intensity, leading to the development of a complex stratigraphic sequence, mainly due to rapid shifts in wind direction and eruptive style. The resulting tephra deposits consist of 13 main layers grouped into four units. Each layer was characterized based on its dispersal direction, sedimentological features, and on the main characteristics of the juvenile fraction (texture, density, petrography, chemistry). The lowest part of the eruptive sequence (Unit I), corresponding to the tephra emitted between 4 and 5 June, is composed of alternating lapilli layers with a total estimated volume of ca. 0.75 km3; these layers record the highest intensity phase, during which a bent-over plume dispersed tephra towards the southeast-east, with negligible up-wind sedimentation. Products emitted during 5–6 June (Unit II) signaled an abrupt shift in wind direction towards the north, leading to the deposition of a coarse ash deposit in the northern sector (ca. 0.21 km3 in volume), followed by a resumption of easterly directed winds. A third phase (Unit III) began on 7 June and resulted in tephra deposits in the eastern sector and ballistic bombs around the vent area. A final phase (Unit IV) started after 15 June and was characterized by the emission of fine-grained white tephra from ash-charged plumes during low-level activity and the extrusion of a viscous lava flow. Timing and duration of the first eruptive phases were constrained based on comparison of the dispersal of the main tephra layers with satellite images, showing that most of the tephra was emitted during the first 72 h of the event. The analyzed juvenile material tightly clusters within the rhyolitic field, with negligible chemical variations through the eruptive sequence. Textural observations reveal that changes in eruption intensity (and consequently in magma ascent velocity within the conduit) and complex interactions between gas-rich and gas-depleted magma portions during ascent resulted in vesicular clasts with variable degrees of shear localization, and possibly in the large heterogeneity of the juvenile material.