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Durham University

Department of Earth Sciences


Publication details for Prof. Ed Llewellin

Gardner, James E., Wadsworth, Fabian B., Llewellin, Edward W., Watkins, James M. & Coumans, Jason P. (2019). Experimental constraints on the textures and origin of obsidian pyroclasts. Bulletin of Volcanology 81: 22.

Author(s) from Durham


Obsidian pyroclasts are commonly preserved in the fall deposits of explosive silicic eruptions. Recent work has suggested that they form by sintering of ash particles on the conduit walls above the fragmentation depth and are subsequently torn out and transported in the gas-particle dispersion. Although the sintering hypothesis is consistent with the general vesicle textures and dissolved volatiles in obsidian pyroclasts, previous sintering experiments do not capture all of the textural complexities observed in the natural pyroclasts. Here, we design experiments in which unimodal and bimodal distributions of rhyolitic ash are sintered at temperatures and H2O pressures relevant to shallow volcanic conduits and under variable cooling rates. The experiments produce dense, welded obsidian that have a range of textures similar to those observed in natural pyroclasts. We find that using a unimodal distribution of particles produces obsidian with evenly distributed trapped vesicles, while a bimodal initial particle distribution produces obsidian with domains of poorly vesicular glass among domains of more vesicle-rich glass. We also find that slow cooling leads to resorption of trapped vesicles, producing fully dense obsidian. These broad features match those found in obsidian pyroclasts from the North Mono (California, USA) rhyolite eruption, providing strong support to the hypothesis that obsidian can be produced by ash sintering above the fragmentation depth during explosive eruptions.