Caldera-forming eruptions of mushy silicic magma are among the most catastrophic natural events on Earth. In such magmas, crystals form an interlocking framework when their content reaches critical thresholds, resulting in the dramatic increase in viscous resistance to flow. Here, we propose a new mechanism for the ascent of mushy magma based on microstructural observations of crystal-rich silicic pumices and lavas from the Central Andes and decompression experiments. Microstructural data include spherical vesicles and jigsaw-puzzle association of broken crystals in pumices, whereas there is limited breakage of crystals in lavas. These observations insinuate that shearing of magma during ascent was limited. Decompression experiments reveal contrasting interaction between growing gas bubbles and the crystal framework in crystal-rich magma. Under slow decompression typical of effusive eruptions, gas extraction is promoted, whereas under rapid decompression, bubbles are retained and the crystal framework collapses. This feedback between decompression rate, retention of gas bubbles, and integrity of the crystal framework leads to strong non-linearity between magma decompression rate and eruption explosivity. We extend these findings to caldera-forming eruptions of crystal-rich magma where large overpressures are induced by caldera-collapse, resulting in magma plug-flow, rapid decompression facilitated by shear-localization at conduit margins, and explosive eruption.
ASJC Scopus subject areas