Source: Laboratory of Alan Lester - University of Colorado Boulder
Igneous rocks are the products of cooling and crystallization of magma. Volcanic rocks are a particular variety of igneous rock, forming as a consequence of magma breaching the surface, then cooling and crystallizing in the subaerial environment.
Magma is liquid rock that typically ranges in temperature from approximately 800 °C to 1,200 °C (Figure 1). Magma itself is produced within the Earth via three primary melting mechanisms, namely the addition of heat, addition of volatiles, and decompression. Each mode of melt generation tends to produce specific types of magma and, therefore, distinct eruptive styles and structures.
Figure 1. Fresh lava breakout on Kilauea, Hawaii. Lava is the term for magma that is on Earth’s surface.
Heat addition, often linked to hot spots or to the ponding of high temperature melts in the crust, will generate felsic (silica-rich) magmas in continental settings and mafic (silica-poor) magmas in oceanic settings. Volatile addition is the most common mechanism for melt generation at subduction zones and produces intermediate magmas (intermediate silica abundance), typically leading to island arcs or linear volcanic ranges (examples being the Aleutian Islands, the Cascade Mountains (Figure 2), and the Andes Mountains). Decompression melting generates mafic magmas and occurs in rift zones. Although rifting can and does occur in continental settings (e.g. East African Rift Valley), this is the primary melt mechanism for the mid-ocean ridges that encircle the globe and stretch through the main ocean basins (Atlantic, Pacific, Indian), these being, by far, the dominant zones of magma generation on our planet.
Figure 2. 3,000 foot steam plume from Mount St. Helens on May 19, 1982.
Plumes of steam, gas, and ash often occurred at Mount St. Helens in the early 1980s. On clear days, they could be seen from Portland, Oregon, 50 miles to the south. The plume photographed here rose nearly 3,000 feet above the volcano’s rim. The view is from Harry’s Ridge, 5 miles north of the mountain.
The type of magma formed in these different settings is linked to the depth of melting, the composition of mantle undergoing melting, and the degree of melting.
In general, oceanic environments and continental rift zones generate basaltic (mafic) melts because of asthenospheric mantle melting.
Typically, felsic magmas form as a result of high percentage melting of continental crust or continental lithosphere; mafic magmas form during melting of oceanic lithosphere or asthenospheric mantle.
Magma Viscosity and Explosivity
Viscosity and volatile content are the primary controls on magmatic explosivity. Highly viscous felsic magmas with high volatile contents are likely to produce the most explosive eruptions. In contrast, highly fluid (low viscosity) and low volatile content mafic magmas (e.g. basalt) will generally produce the most quiescent eruptions.
When magma escapes from a volcanic edifice, there are a variety of possible products, including lava and pyroclastics.
Quiescent eruptions allow for magma to pour off the side of the volcano, or outwards from fissures. These are called lava flows. Lava flows rarely travel at velocities greater than a few kilometers per hour. As such, they can result in structural damage, but rarely cause loss of life.
More explosive eruptions will result in mixtures of magma, rock, and gas to be ejected from the volcano. Collectively, this ejected material is termed “pyroclastic.” Pyroclasts can come in a range of sizes from ash (very fine grained material, <2 mm, and often of submicroscopic grain sizes) to lapilli (2-64 mm), to tephra, and bombs (>64 mm).
In some cases, a highly fluidized pyroclastic eruption, containing hot fragments, liquid droplets, and thick gases, will mobilize and move as a rapid mass off the side of a volcano. These events are termed pyroclastic flows (Figure 3). They can be on the order of 1,000 °C, and travel at velocities in the range of 100-600 km/h. These are, without doubt, one of the most dangerous volcanic products.
Two experiments are presented that relate to the principles of volcanic rock formation. The first experiment demonstrates a key principle of volcanic layering: subsequent deposition of lava and the principle of superposition. The second experiment is a variant on the frequently used baking soda and vinegar in a bottle explosion. Although very simple to perform, it shows several important aspects of volcanic eruptions.
1. CO2 Volcano
- Fill a plastic container with a thin neck (a 16-oz. soda bottle for instance) about half-full with warm water.
- Bury the bottle beneath modeling clay or dough, leaving just the neck (opening) of the bottle exposed, simulating the structure of a volcano.
- Add a few drops of dishwashing liquid (in order to make the liquid frothy and likely to produce bubbles).
- Using a folded piece of paper as a funnel, add 4 teaspoons (approximately 15-20 mL) of baking soda.
- Gradually add red vinegar to the plastic container. If using a 16-oz. soda bottle, add 8-10 oz. of vinegar. Add the vinegar to the container until it begins to effervesce.
- If desired, cork the container for a “violent eruption” or leave it uncorked for a more quiescent eruption.
2. Lava Layering
- Warm paraffin on a hot plate so it becomes a viscous fluid.
- Take a thin section of cardboard, and bend in to form bends and troughs of various shapes. Pour the liquid paraffin onto the inclined cardboard surface. As the paraffin flows over the uneven surface it will form a layer of varying thickness, as would be seen in a real lava flow.
- After the paraffin has cooled and solidified, repeat the process two or three times, in order to simulate successive lava flows.
Volcanic rock is a specific type of igneous rock that is formed when magma breaches the surface and solidifies in the subaerial environment. Its study provides insights into past, and possibly future, volcanic activity.
Magma is liquid rock, which is produced within the Earth and reaches temperatures from 800 to 1,200 °C. There are three primary mechanisms of magma production: addition of heat, addition of volatiles, or decompression. Each of these different types of melting produces specific types of magma, and therefore generate volcanoes with different eruptive styles and structure. This video will illustrate the differences between types of lava deposition on a small scale using paraffin wax, and different eruption types using a CO2 based demonstration.
Highly viscous magmas with high volatile contents tend to produce the most explosive eruptions, compared to low viscosity and low volatile content magmas, which generally produce the most quiescent eruptions.
In quiescent eruptions, lava flows off the side of the volcano or outward from fissures. Lava flows are typically slow moving, and as such may cause property damage, but rarely loss of life. In contrast, more explosive reactions result in magma, rock, and gas, collectively known as "pyroclastic material", to be ejected from the volcano.
The type of mantle being melted, and the degree of melting, can both affect magma composition. The resultant magma formed will then affect the resulting volcano produced, and the eruption type observed.
Generally, viscous magma is more felsic in composition and forms as a result of melting of continental crust or continental lithosphere. In contrast, less viscous magma is typically mafic, and forms during melting of oceanic lithosphere or asthenopheric mantle melting. For more information on felsic and mafic rock, see this collection's other video on Igneous Rock.
Volcanoes are typically generated by successive depositions of lava over time. Highly viscous lava creates tall, steep edifices, known as stratovolcanoes. In contrast, free-flowing lava travels further before solidifying, creating short, low-profile structures known as shield volcanoes.
Now that we are familiar with the concepts behind magma production, deposition, and volcanic eruption, let's take a look at how these can be simulated in the laboratory.
The first procedure demonstrates quiescent and explosive eruptions. To begin, fill a plastic container with a thin neck to about half full with warm water. To simulate the structure of a volcano, bury the bottle beneath modeling clay or dough, leaving just the neck opening of the bottle exposed. Next, add roughly 4 teaspoons of baking soda.
Add vinegar to the bottle until it begins to effervesce. Including dye can aid with visibility. For a quiescent eruption leave the bottle open. If simulation of a violent eruption is desired, cork the bottle.
In the quiescent eruption, some of the material flowed outwards like a lava flow. The frothy nature of the flow is reminiscent of lava that is charged with volatiles.
Most volcanic eruptions are linked to volatile loss. Those that are particularly explosive will have considerable volatile emanations. In the corked container, the initial eruption involves pyroclastic-type material that is ejected into the air above the volcanic edifice. This also indicates what can happen in naturally blocked volcanoes.
The next demonstration relates to is lava layering. To demonstrate this, warm paraffin on a hot plate until it becomes a viscous fluid. Pour the liquid paraffin onto an inclined thin cardboard surface with bends of various shapes. This varied gradient simulates lava flow on the uneven surface of real volcanoes. As the paraffin flows over the uneven surface, it will form a layer of varying thickness, which simulates what would be seen on the surface of a real volcano. Allow the first paraffin layer to cool, then pour a second layer over the first, starting from the same point. Repeat this process several times to simulate successive lava flows.
Note how the layers thin with distance from the magma source. Also observe that subsequent hot layers or eruptions can partially melt underlying layers.
The layering demonstrates the principle of superposition. Older layers are found at the bottom, with deposits from more recent eruptions stratified above.
Additionally, the bent surface of the card simulates the uneven surface seen on most volcanoes. Different thicknesses of magma will collect on the steeper or shallower parts of the volcano surface, changing the landscape of the volcano with each successive eruption.
Understanding volcanic rock composition, formation, and the properties that lead to different eruption phenomena has vast applications for geologists and human populations as a whole.
Recognizing types of volcanic rock in the field and linking them to specific eruptive styles can inform geologists of the type of threats posed to nearby communities. This information can help with implementing eruption emergency plans, or with targeted safety construction or town planning.
Types of volcanic rock can also be studied to evaluate the severity or explosivity of past eruptions. This information can be helpful when planning land use. As volcanic deposition can also positively influence soil and agriculture, such areas may be economically fruitful if the risk of severe eruption is considered low.
Volcanic layering can be a window into the geological history of a region. Layers can contain information about past climate, environment, and life, and are easy to date, providing useful time markers in geologic investigations. Volcanoes can also create scenic landscapes, including the iconic Arthur's Seat, which overlooks the city of Edinburgh in Scotland. This is the largest remaining part of an extinct volcano that dates back to the Carboniferous period, and is designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest.
You've just watched JoVE's introduction to volcanic igneous rocks. You should now understand the different types of magma and their deposition, principles of quiescent and explosive eruptions, and how to simulate these in the laboratory or at home. Thanks for watching! Thanks for watching!
1. CO2 Volcano
During the CO2 experiment, some of the material will flow outwards like a lava flow. The frothy nature of the flow is reminiscent of lava that is charged with volatiles. Most volcanic eruptions are linked to volatile loss. Those that are particularly explosive will have considerable volatile emanations. If the container is corked, then the initial eruption will involve pyroclastic-type material that is ejected into the air above the volcanic edifice.
2. Volcanic Layering
With the volcanic layering experiment complete, note that the layers thin with distance from the magma source. This is a phenomenon that would be commonly seen in volcanoes. It can also be seen that subsequent layers can partially melt the underlying layer. The principle of superposition can also be observed in the demonstration, where older layers are found on the bottom, younger layers atop.
Applications and Summary
Volcanism and associated rocks are of great interest to geologists. Not only do volcanic eruptions pose a threat to nearby communities, it is important to recognize that they can also lead to scenic landscapes, and positively influence soil and agricultural productivity.
Recognizing volcanic rocks in the field, linking them to specific eruptive styles, and ascertaining regions of past activity are part of fundamental geologic assessments for regions in which people live and/or work. Volcanic rocks can be indicators of past eruptive activity. The types of volcanic rocks present can also be used to evaluate the severity and explosivity of past eruptions. Understanding the potential types of eruptions (e.g. lava flows (Figure 1), ash, pyroclastic flows (Figure 3)) that might occur in a volcanic region are a crucial part of developing mitigation strategies.
Figure 3. Pyroclastic flows sweep down the flanks of the Mayon Volcano, Philippines, 1984.
Volcanic layering can also be a window into a “page-by-page” history of a region. Volcanic layers can contain information about past climate, environment, and even life. In particular, volcanic layers are relatively easy to date (unlike sedimentary layers) using isotopic dating techniques. Therefore, volcanic layers are useful time-markers in geologic investigations.