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Durham University

Department of Earth Sciences


Publication details for Dr Fabian Wadsworth

Schipper, C. Ian, Castro, Jonathan M., Tuffen, Hugh, Wadsworth, Fabian B., Chappell, Debra, Pantoja, Andres E., Simpson, Mark P. & Le Ru, Eric C. (2015). Cristobalite in the 2011–2012 Cordón Caulle eruption (Chile). Bulletin of Volcanology 77(5): 34.

Author(s) from Durham


Cristobalite is a low-pressure high-temperature polymorph of SiO2 found in many volcanic rocks. Its volcanogenic formation has received attention because (1) pure particulate cristobalite can be toxic when inhaled, and its dispersal in volcanic ash is therefore a potential hazard; and (2) its nominal stability field is at temperatures higher than those of magmatic systems, making it an interesting example of metastable crystallization. We present analyses (by XRD, SEM, EPMA, Laser Raman, and synchrotron μ-cT) of representative rhyolitic pyroclasts and of samples from different facies of the compound lava flow from the 2011–2012 eruption of Cordón Caulle (Chile). Cristobalite was not detected in pyroclasts, negating any concern for respiratory hazards, but it makes up 0–23 wt% of lava samples, occurring as prismatic vapour-deposited crystals in vesicles and/or as a groundmass phase in microcrystalline samples. Textures of lava collected near the vent, which best represent those generated in the conduit, indicate that pore isolation promotes vapour deposition of cristobalite. Mass balance shows that the SiO2 deposited in isolated pore space can have originated from corrosion of the adjacent groundmass. Textures of lava collected down-flow were modified during transport in the insulated interior of the flow, where protracted cooling, additional vesiculation events, and shearing overprint original textures. In the most slowly cooled and intensely sheared samples from the core of the flow, nearly all original pore space is lost, and vapour-deposited cristobalite crystals are crushed and incorporated into the groundmass as the vesicles in which they formed collapse by strain and compaction of the surrounding matrix. Holocrystalline lava from the core of the flow achieves high mass concentrations of cristobalite as slow cooling allows extensive microlite crystallization and devitrification to form groundmass cristobalite. Vapour deposition and devitrification act concurrently but semi-independently. Both are promoted by slow cooling, and it is ultimately devitrification that most strongly contributes to total cristobalite content in a given flow facies. Our findings provide a new field context in which to address questions that have arisen from the study of cristobalite in dome eruptions, with insight afforded by the fundamentally different emplacement geometries of flows and domes.