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Durham University

Department of Earth Sciences


Publication details for Dr Fabian Wadsworth

Wadsworth, Fabian B., Witcher, Taylor, Vossen, Caron E. J., Hess, Kai-Uwe, Unwin, Holly E., Scheu, Bettina, Castro, Jonathan M. & Dingwell, Donald B. (2018). Combined effusive-explosive silicic volcanism straddles the multiphase viscous-to-brittle transition. Nature Communications 9(1): 4696.

Author(s) from Durham


Magma is a viscoelastic fluid that can support fracture propagation when local shear stresses are high, or relax and flow when shear stresses are low. Here we present experiments to confirm this using synthetic and natural magmatic liquids across eruptive conditions and use Maxwell’s linear viscoelasticity to parameterize our results and predict the maximum stresses that can be supported during flow. This model proves universal across a large range of liquid compositions, temperatures, crystallinity and rates of strain relevant to shallow crustal magma ascent. Our results predict that the 2008 Volcán Chaitén eruption resided in the viscous field at the onset of magma ascent, but transitioned to a mixed viscous-brittle regime during degassing, coincident with the observed combined effusive-explosive behaviour during dome extrusion. Taking a realistic maximum effusive ascent rate, we propose that silicic eruptions on Earth may straddle the viscous-to-brittle transition by the time they reach the surface.