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Lapilli on Kilauea PuuPuaiLapilli large.jpg
Lapilli on Kilauea

Lapilli is a size classification term for tephra, which is material that falls out of the air during a volcanic eruption or during some meteorite impacts. [1] Lapilli (singular: lapillus) is Latin for "little stones".

Tephra Fragmental material produced by a volcanic eruption

Tephra is fragmental material produced by a volcanic eruption regardless of composition, fragment size, or emplacement mechanism.

Volcano A rupture in the crust of a planetary-mass object that allows hot lava, volcanic ash, and gases to escape from a magma chamber below the surface

A volcano is a rupture in the crust of a planetary-mass object, such as Earth, that allows hot lava, volcanic ash, and gases to escape from a magma chamber below the surface.


By definition lapilli range from 2 to 64 mm (0.08 to 2.52 in) in diameter. [2] A pyroclastic particle greater than 64 mm in diameter is known as a volcanic bomb when molten, or a volcanic block when solid. Pyroclastic material with particles less than 2 mm in diameter is referred to as volcanic ash. [3] [4]

Volcanic bomb

A volcanic bomb is a mass of molten rock (tephra) larger than 64 mm (2.5 inches) in diameter, formed when a volcano ejects viscous fragments of lava during an eruption. They cool into solid fragments before they reach the ground. Because volcanic bombs cool after they leave the volcano, they are extrusive igneous rocks. Volcanic bombs can be thrown many kilometres from an erupting vent, and often acquire aerodynamic shapes during their flight. Bombs can be extremely large; the 1935 eruption of Mount Asama in Japan expelled bombs measuring 5–6 m in diameter up to 600 m from the vent. Volcanic bombs are a significant volcanic hazard, and can cause severe injuries and death to people in an eruption zone. One such incident occurred at Galeras volcano in Colombia in 1993; six people near the summit were killed and several seriously injured by lava bombs when the volcano erupted unexpectedly. On July 16, 2018, 23 people were injured on a tour boat near the Kilauea volcano as a result of a basketball-sized lava bomb from the 2018 lower Puna eruption.

Volcanic ash volcanic material formed during explosive eruptions with the diameter of the grains less than 2 mm

Volcanic ash consists of fragments of pulverized rock, minerals and volcanic glass, created during volcanic eruptions and measuring less than 2 mm (0.079 inches) in diameter. The term volcanic ash is also often loosely used to refer to all explosive eruption products, including particles larger than 2 mm. Volcanic ash is formed during explosive volcanic eruptions when dissolved gases in magma expand and escape violently into the atmosphere. The force of the escaping gas shatters the magma and propels it into the atmosphere where it solidifies into fragments of volcanic rock and glass. Ash is also produced when magma comes into contact with water during phreatomagmatic eruptions, causing the water to explosively flash to steam leading to shattering of magma. Once in the air, ash is transported by wind up to thousands of kilometers away.


Accretionary lapilli in the Mesoproterozoic Stac Fada Member of the Torridonian, of probable impact origin Accretionary Lapilli - - 831917.jpg
Accretionary lapilli in the Mesoproterozoic Stac Fada Member of the Torridonian, of probable impact origin

Lapilli are spheroid-, teardrop-, dumbbell- or button-shaped droplets of molten or semi-molten lava ejected from a volcanic eruption that fall to earth while still at least partially molten. These granules are not accretionary, but instead the direct result of liquid rock cooling as it travels through the air.

Lava Molten rock expelled by a volcano during an eruption

Lava is molten rock generated by geothermal energy and expelled through fractures in planetary crust or in an eruption, usually at temperatures from 700 to 1,200 °C. The structures resulting from subsequent solidification and cooling are also sometimes described as lava. The molten rock is formed in the interior of some planets, including Earth, and some of their satellites, though such material located below the crust is referred to by other terms.

Lapilli tuffs are a very common form of volcanic rock typical of rhyolite, andesite and dacite pyroclastic eruptions, where thick layers of lapilli can be deposited during a basal surge eruption. Most lapilli tuffs which remain in ancient terrains are formed by the accumulation and welding of semi-molten lapilli into what is known as a welded tuff.

Tuff Rock consolidated from volcanic ash

Tuff, also known as volcanic tuff, is a type of rock made of volcanic ash ejected from a vent during a volcanic eruption. Following ejection and deposition, the ash is compacted into a solid rock in a process called consolidation. Tuff is sometimes erroneously called "tufa", particularly when used as construction material, but properly speaking, tufa is a limestone precipitated from groundwater. Rock that contains greater than 50% tuff is considered tuffaceous.

Rhyolite An igneous, volcanic rock, of felsic (silica-rich) composition

Rhyolite is an igneous, volcanic rock, of felsic (silica-rich) composition (typically > 69% SiO2 – see the TAS classification). It may have any texture from glassy to aphanitic to porphyritic. The mineral assemblage is usually quartz, sanidine and plagioclase (in a ratio > 2:1 – see the QAPF diagram). Biotite and hornblende are common accessory minerals. It is the extrusive equivalent to granite.

Andesite An intermediate volcanic rock

Andesite ( or ) is an extrusive igneous, volcanic rock, of intermediate composition, with aphanitic to porphyritic texture. In a general sense, it is the intermediate type between basalt and rhyolite, and ranges from 57 to 63% silicon dioxide (SiO2) as illustrated in TAS diagrams. The mineral assemblage is typically dominated by plagioclase plus pyroxene or hornblende. Magnetite, zircon, apatite, ilmenite, biotite, and garnet are common accessory minerals. Alkali feldspar may be present in minor amounts. The quartz-feldspar abundances in andesite and other volcanic rocks are illustrated in QAPF diagrams.

The heat of the newly deposited volcanic pile tends to cause the semi-molten material to flatten out and then become welded. Welded tuff textures are distinctive (termed eutaxitic ), with flattened lapilli, fiamme, blocks and bombs forming oblate to discus-shaped forms within layers. These rocks are quite indurated and tough, as opposed to non-welded lapilli tuffs, which are unconsolidated and easily eroded.

Rock microstructure includes the texture of a rock and the small scale rock structures. The words "texture" and "microstructure" are interchangeable, with the latter preferred in modern geological literature. However, texture is still acceptable because it is a useful means of identifying the origin of rocks, how they formed, and their appearance.

Fiamme Small lens-shaped inclusions in volcaniclastic rocks

Fiamme are lens-shapes, usually millimetres to centimetres in size, seen on surfaces of some volcaniclastic rocks. They can occur in welded pyroclastic fall deposits and in ignimbrites, which are the deposits of pumiceous pyroclastic density currents. The name fiamme comes from the Italian word for flames, describing their shape. The term is descriptive and non-genetic.

Accretionary lapilli

Rounded balls of tephra are called accretionary lapilli if they consist of layered volcanic ash particles. Accretionary lapilli are formed by a process of wet ash aggregation due to moisture in volcanic clouds that sticks the particles together, with the volcanic ash nucleating on some object and then accreting to it in layers before the accretionary lapillus falls from the cloud. Accretionary lapilli are like volcanic hailstones that form by the addition of concentric layers of moist ash around a central nucleus.

Volcanic ash aggregation

Volcanic ash aggregation occurs when particles of volcanic ash collide and stick together during transport. This process modifies the size distribution of airborne particles, which affects both atmospheric dispersal and fallout patterns on the ground. Aggregation also impacts the dynamics of volcanic plumes, pyroclastic density currents, and their associated hazards.

This texture can be confused with spherulitic and axiolitic texture.

Armoured (or cored) lapilli

These lapilli are a variety of accretionary lapilli, though they contain lithic or crystal cores coated by rinds of coarse to fine ash. Armoured lapilli only form in hydroclastic eruptions, where significant moisture is present. The vapour column contains cohesive ash which sticks to particles within it.

See also

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Volcanic cone Landform of ejecta from a volcanic vent piled up in a conical shape

Volcanic cones are among the simplest volcanic landforms. They are built by ejecta from a volcanic vent, piling up around the vent in the shape of a cone with a central crater. Volcanic cones are of different types, depending upon the nature and size of the fragments ejected during the eruption. Types of volcanic cones include stratocones, spatter cones, tuff cones, and cinder cones.

Volcanic rock rocks composing or associated with volcanoes, volcanic activity or volcanism

Volcanic rock is a rock formed from magma erupted from a volcano. In other words, it differs from other igneous rock by being of volcanic origin. Like all rock types, the concept of volcanic rock is artificial, and in nature volcanic rocks grade into hypabyssal and metamorphic rocks and constitute an important element of some sediments and sedimentary rocks. For these reasons, in geology, volcanics and shallow hypabyssal rocks are not always treated as distinct. In the context of Precambrian shield geology, the term "volcanic" is often applied to what are strictly metavolcanic rocks. Volcanic rocks and sediment that form from magma erupted into the air are called "volcaniclastics," and these are technically sedimentary rocks.

Pyroclastic rock Clastic rocks composed solely or primarily of volcanic materials

Pyroclastic rocks or pyroclastics are sedimentary clastic rocks composed solely or primarily of volcanic materials. Where the volcanic material has been transported and reworked through mechanical action, such as by wind or water, these rocks are termed volcaniclastic. Commonly associated with unsieved volcanic activity—such as Plinian or krakatoan eruption styles, or phreatomagmatic eruptions—pyroclastic deposits are commonly formed from airborne ash, lapilli and bombs or blocks ejected from the volcano itself, mixed in with shattered country rock.

Ignimbrite A variety of hardened tuff

Ignimbrite is a variety of hardened tuff. Ignimbrites are igneous rocks made up of crystal and rock fragments in a glass-shard groundmass, albeit the original texture of the groundmass might be obliterated due to high degrees of welding. The term ignimbrite is not recommended by the IUGS Subcommission on the Systematics of Igneous Rocks.

Ejecta particles that came out of a volcanic vent

Ejecta are particles ejected from an area. In volcanology, in particular, the term refers to particles including pyroclastic materials (Tephra) that came out of a volcanic explosion and magma eruption volcanic vent, or crater, has traveled through the air or under water, and fell back on the ground surface or on the ocean floor.

Agglomerate Coarse accumulation of large blocks of volcanic material that contains at least 75% bombs

Agglomerate is a coarse accumulation of large blocks of volcanic material that contains at least 75% bombs. Volcanic bombs differ from volcanic blocks in that their shape records fluidal surfaces: they may, for example, have ropy, cauliform, scoriaceous, or folded, chilled margins and spindle, spatter, ribbon, ragged, or amoeboid shapes. Globular masses of lava may have been shot from the crater at a time when partly molten lava was exposed, and was frequently shattered by sudden outbursts of steam. These bombs were viscous at the moment of ejection and by rotation in the air acquired their shape. They are commonly 1 to 2 feet in diameter, but specimens as large as 12 feet (3.7 m) have been observed. There is less variety in their composition at any one volcanic centre than in the case of the lithic blocks, and their composition indicates the type of magma being erupted.

La Garita Caldera supervolcano

La Garita Caldera is a large volcanic caldera in the San Juan volcanic field in the San Juan Mountains near the town of Creede in southwestern Colorado, United States. It is west of La Garita, Colorado. The eruption that created the La Garita Caldera is among the largest known volcanic eruptions in Earth's history.

Watsons Dodd mountain in United Kingdom

Watson's Dodd is a fell in the English Lake District, a minor rise on the main ridge of the Helvellyn range in the Eastern Fells, but a prominent shoulder on the west side of that range.

Types of volcanic eruptions Basic mechanisms of eruption and variations

Several types of volcanic eruptions—during which lava, tephra, and assorted gases are expelled from a volcanic vent or fissure—have been distinguished by volcanologists. These are often named after famous volcanoes where that type of behavior has been observed. Some volcanoes may exhibit only one characteristic type of eruption during a period of activity, while others may display an entire sequence of types all in one eruptive series.

Igneous textures include the rock textures occurring in igneous rocks. Igneous textures are used by geologists in determining the mode of origin igneous rocks and are used in rock classification. There are six main types of textures; phaneritic, aphanitic, porphyritic, glassy, pyroclastic and pegmatitic.

Phreatomagmatic eruption Volcanic eruption involving both steam and magma

Phreatomagmatic eruptions are volcanic eruptions resulting from interaction between magma and water. They differ from exclusively magmatic eruptions and phreatic eruptions. Unlike phreatic eruptions, the products of phreatomagmatic eruptions contain juvenile (magmatic) clasts. It is common for a large explosive eruption to have magmatic and phreatomagmatic components.

Volcanic dam A natural dam produced directly or indirectly by volcanism

A volcanic dam is a type of natural dam produced directly or indirectly by volcanism, which holds or temporarily restricts the flow of surface water in existing streams, like a man-made dam. There are two main types of volcanic dams, those created by the flow of molten lava, and those created by the primary or secondary deposition of pyroclastic material and debris. This classification generally excludes other, often larger and longer lived dam-type geologic features, separately termed crater lakes, although these volcanic centers may be associated with the source of material for volcanic dams, and the lowest portion of its confining rim may be considered as such a dam, especially if the lake level within the crater is relatively high.

Surtseyan eruption type of volcanic eruption

A Surtseyan eruption is a type of volcanic eruption that takes place in shallow seas or lakes. It is named after the island of Surtsey off the southern coast of Iceland.

Pahvant Butte

Pahvant Butte is a butte formed by a dormant volcano in the west-central portion of Utah, United States.

Bridge River Vent mountain in Canada

The Bridge River Vent is a volcanic crater in the Pacific Ranges of the Coast Mountains in southwestern British Columbia, Canada. It is located 51 km (32 mi) west of Bralorne on the northeastern flank of the Mount Meager massif. With an elevation of 1,524 m (5,000 ft), it lies on the steep northern face of Plinth Peak, a 2,677 m (8,783 ft) high volcanic peak comprising the northern portion of Meager. The vent rises above the western shoulder of the Pemberton Valley and represents the northernmost volcanic feature of the Mount Meager massif.

El Toro volcanic field is part of the Central Volcanic Zone of the Andes in the northern Puna of Argentina. Three of the cones in the volcanic field are located southwest of the town of El Toro and the fourth is found north. Part of a field of monogenetic volcanoes associated with subduction of the Nazca plate beneath the South America plate, it is constructed from three main cones and an additional lava flow. The field formed between six and two million years ago.


  1. Bron, K.A. (2010). "Accretionary and melt impactoclasts from the Tookoonooka impact event, Australia". In Reimold W.U. & Gibson R.L. (ed.). Large Meteorite Impacts and Planetary Evolution IV. Special Paper. 465. The Geological Society of America. p. 222. ISBN   978-0-8137-2465-2 . Retrieved 22 May 2011.
  2. Fisher, R. V. (1961). "Proposed classification of volcaniclastic sediments and rocks". Geological Society of America Bulletin. 72 (9): 1409–1414. Bibcode:1961GSAB...72.1409F. doi:10.1130/0016-7606(1961)72[1409:PCOVSA]2.0.CO;2.
  3. VHP Photo Glossary: Laplli in USGS Photo Glossary of volcano terms]
  4. How Volcanoes Work