Tephra

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Volcanic tephra at Brown Bluff, Antarctica (2016) Brown Bluff-2016-Tabarin Peninsula-Volcanic tephra.jpg
Volcanic tephra at Brown Bluff, Antarctica (2016)

Tephra is fragmental material produced by a volcanic eruption regardless of composition, fragment size, or emplacement mechanism. [1]

Contents

Tephra horizons in south-central Iceland: The thick and light-coloured layer at the centre of the photo is rhyolitic tephra from Hekla. Icelandic tephra.JPG
Tephra horizons in south-central Iceland: The thick and light-coloured layer at the centre of the photo is rhyolitic tephra from Hekla.

Volcanologists also refer to airborne fragments as pyroclasts. Once clasts have fallen to the ground, they remain as tephra unless hot enough to fuse together into pyroclastic rock or tuff.

A 2007 eruptive plume at Mount Etna produced volcanic ash, pumice, and lava bombs. 04Sep2007 Etna from SE Crater.jpg
A 2007 eruptive plume at Mount Etna produced volcanic ash, pumice, and lava bombs.

Overview

Rocks from the Bishop tuff, uncompressed with pumice on left; compressed with fiamme on right BishopTuff.jpg
Rocks from the Bishop tuff, uncompressed with pumice on left; compressed with fiamme on right

The distribution of tephra following an eruption usually involves the largest boulders falling to the ground quickest, therefore closest to the vent, while smaller fragments travel further – ash can often travel for thousands of miles, even circumglobal, as it can stay in the stratosphere for days to weeks following an eruption. When large amounts of tephra accumulate in the atmosphere from massive volcanic eruptions (or from a multitude of smaller eruptions occurring simultaneously), they can reflect light and heat from the sun back through the atmosphere, in some cases causing the temperature to drop, resulting in a temporary "volcanic winter". The effects of acidic rain and snow, the precipitation caused by tephra discharges into the atmosphere, can be seen for years after the eruptions have stopped. Tephra eruptions can affect ecosystems from miles to kilometers depending on the size of the eruption. [2]

Classification

Tephra fragments are classified by size:

Volcanic breccia in Jackson Hole. Volcanic breccia in Jackson Hole.JPG
Volcanic breccia in Jackson Hole.

The use of tephra layers, which bear their own unique chemistry and character, as temporal marker horizons in archaeological and geological sites, is known as tephrochronology.

Etymology

The word "tephra" and "pyroclast" both derive from Greek: τέφρα tephra means "ash", while the word pyroclast is derived from the Greek πῦρ (pyr), meaning "fire", and κλαστός (klastos), meaning "broken in pieces".

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Tuff Rock consolidated from volcanic ash

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Hekla stratovolcano in the south of Iceland

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Pyroclastic flow Fast-moving current of hot gas and volcanic matter that moves away from a volcano

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Volcanology The study of volcanoes, lava, magma and associated phenomena

Volcanology is the study of volcanoes, lava, magma, and related geological, geophysical and geochemical phenomena (volcanism). The term volcanology is derived from the Latin word vulcan. Vulcan was the ancient Roman god of fire.

Volcanologist person who studies the formation of volcanoes

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Pyroclastic rock Clastic rocks composed solely or primarily of volcanic materials

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Lapilli Small pyroclast debris thrown in the air by a volcanic eruption

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Katla (volcano) volcano in Iceland

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Cerro Negro mountain

Cerro Negro is an active volcano in the Cordillera de los Maribios mountain range in Nicaragua, about 10 km (6.2 mi) from the village of Malpaisillo. It is a very new volcano, the youngest in Central America, having first appeared in April 1850. It consists of a gravelly basaltic cinder cone, which contrasts greatly with the surrounding verdant hillsides, and gives rise to its name, which means Black Hill. Cerro Negro has erupted frequently since its first eruption. One unusual aspect of several eruptions has been the emission of ash from the top of the cone, while lava erupts from fractures at the base.

Eruption column

An eruption column or eruption plume is a cloud of super-heated ash and tephra suspended in gases emitted during an explosive volcanic eruption. The volcanic materials form a vertical column or plume that may rise many kilometers into the air above the vent of the volcano. In the most explosive eruptions, the eruption column may rise over 40 km (25 mi), penetrating the stratosphere. Stratospheric injection of aerosols by volcanoes is a major cause of short-term climate change.

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 (2,000 ft) 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.

Tephrochronology

Tephrochronology is a geochronological technique that uses discrete layers of tephra—volcanic ash from a single eruption—to create a chronological framework in which paleoenvironmental or archaeological records can be placed. Such an established event provides a "tephra horizon". The premise of the technique is that each volcanic event produces ash with a unique chemical "fingerprint" that allows the deposit to be identified across the area affected by fallout. Thus, once the volcanic event has been independently dated, the tephra horizon will act as time marker.

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.

Dense-rock equivalent is a volcanologic calculation used to estimate volcanic eruption volume. One of the widely accepted measures of the size of a historic or prehistoric eruption is the volume of magma ejected as pumice and volcanic ash, known as tephra during an explosive phase of the eruption, or the volume of lava extruded during an effusive phase of a volcanic eruption. Eruption volumes are commonly expressed in cubic kilometers (km3).

Volcanic hazards

A volcanic hazard is the probability that a volcanic eruption or related geophysical event will occur in a given geographic area and within a specified window of time. The risk that can be associated with a volcanic hazard depends on the proximity and vulnerability of an asset or a population of people near to where a volcanic event might occur.

2010 eruptions of Eyjafjallajökull volcanic events in Iceland

The 2010 eruptions of Eyjafjallajökull were volcanic events at Eyjafjallajökull in Iceland which, although relatively small for volcanic eruptions, caused enormous disruption to air travel across western and northern Europe over an initial period of six days in April 2010. Additional localised disruption continued into May 2010. The eruption was declared officially over in October 2010, when snow on the glacier did not melt. From 14–20 April, ash from the volcanic eruption covered large areas of Northern Europe. About 20 countries closed their airspace to commercial jet traffic and it affected approximately 10 million travellers.

Volcanic ash and aviation safety

Plumes of volcanic ash near active volcanoes are a flight safety hazard, especially for night flights. Volcanic ash is hard and abrasive, and can quickly cause significant wear to propellers and turbocompressor blades, and scratch cockpit windows, impairing visibility. The ash contaminates fuel and water systems, can jam gears, and make engines flameout. Its particles have low melting point, so they melt in the engines' combustion chamber then the ceramic mass sticks to turbine blades, fuel nozzles, and combustors—which can lead to total engine failure. Ash can also contaminate the cabin and damage avionics.

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.

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

Volcanic ash consists of fragments of 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 gasses 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 kilometres away.

References

  1. This is the broad definition of tephra (Greek tephra, "ash") proposed by the Icelandic volcanologist Sigurður Þórarinsson (Sigurdur Thorarinsson) in 1954, in connection with the eruption of Hekla (Thorarinsson, "The eruption of Hekla, 1947-48II, 3, The tephra-fall from Hekla, March 29th, 1947", Visindafélag Íslendinga (1954:1-3).
  2. Ayris, Paul Martin; Delmelle, Pierre (2012-11-01). "The immediate environmental effects of tephra emission". Bulletin of Volcanology. 74 (9): 1905–1936. doi:10.1007/s00445-012-0654-5. ISSN   1432-0819.