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Durham University

Department of Earth Sciences


Publication details for Prof. Ed Llewellin

Horwell, C.J., Williamson, B.J., Llewellin, E.W., Damby, D.E. & Le Blond, J.S. (2013). Nature and formation of cristobalite at the Soufriere Hills Volcano, Monserrat: implications for the petrology and stability of silicic volcanic domes. Bulletin of Volcanology 75: 696.

Author(s) from Durham


Cristobalite is commonly found in the dome lava of silicic volcanoes but is not a primary magmatic phase; its presence indicates that the composition and micro-structure of dome lavas evolve during, and after, emplacement. Nine temporally and mineralogically diverse dome samples from the Soufrière Hills volcano (SHV), Montserrat, are analysed to provide the first detailed assessment of the nature and mode of cristobalite formation in a volcanic dome. The dome rocks contain up to 11 wt.% cristobalite, as defined by X-ray diffraction. Prismatic and platy forms of cristobalite, identified by scanning electron microscopy (SEM), are commonly found in pores and fractures, suggesting that they have precipitated from a vapour phase. Feathery crystallites and micro-crystals of cristobalite and quartz associated with volcanic glass, identified using SEM-Raman, are interpreted to have formed by varying amounts of devitrification. We discuss mechanisms of silica transport and cristobalite formation, and their implications for petrological interpretations and dome stability. We conclude: (1) that silica may be transported in the vapour phase locally, or from one part of the magmatic system to another; (2) that the potential for transport of silica into the dome should not be neglected in petrological and geochemical studies because the addition of non-magmatic phases may affect whole rock composition; and (3) that the extent of cristobalite mineralisation in the dome at SHV is sufficient to reduce porosity—hence, permeability—and may impact on the mechanical strength of the dome rock, thereby potentially affecting dome stability.