Controls on rhyolite lava dome eruptions in the Taupo Volcanic Zone

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Theses / Dissertations
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Doctor of Philosophy
University of Canterbury. Geological Sciences
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Ashwell, Paul

The evolution of rhyolitic lava from effusion to cessation of activity is poorly understood. Recent lava dome eruptions at Unzen, Colima, Chaiten and Soufrière Hills have vastly increased our knowledge on the changes in behaviour of active domes. However, in ancient domes, little knowledge of the evolution of individual extrusion events exists. Instead, internal structures and facies variations can be used to assess the mechanisms of eruption.

Rhyolitic magma rising in a conduit vesiculates and undergoes shear, such that lava erupting at the surface will be a mix of glass and sheared vesicles that form a permeable network, and with or without phenocryst or microlites. This foam will undergo compression from overburden in the shallow conduit and lava dome, forcing the vesicles to close and affecting the permeable network. High temperature, uniaxial compression experiments on crystal-rich and crystal-poor lavas have quantified the evolution of porosity and permeability in such environments. The deformation mechanisms involved in uniaxial deformation are viscous deformation and cracking. Crack production is controlled by strain rate and crystallinity, as strain is localised in crystals in crystal rich lavas. In crystal poor lavas, high strain rates result in long cracks that drastically increase permeability at low strain. Numerous and small cracks in crystal rich lavas allow the permeable network to remain open (although at a lower permeability than undeformed samples) while the porosity decreases.

Flow bands result from shear movement within the conduit. Upon extrusion, these bands will become modified from movement of lava, and can therefore be used to reconstruct styles of eruption. Both Ngongotaha and Ruawahia domes, from Rotorua caldera and Okataina caldera complex (OCC) respectively, show complex flow banding that can be traced to elongated or aligned vents. The northernmost lobe at Ngongotaha exhibits a fan-like distribution of flow bands that are interpreted as resulting from an initial lava flow from a N – S trending fissure. This flow then transitioned into intrusion of obsidian sheets directly above the conduit, bound by wide breccia zones which show vertical movement of the sheets. Progressive intrusions then forced the sheets laterally, forming a sequence of sheets and breccia zones. At Ruawahia, the flow bands show two types of eruption; long flow lobes with ramp structures, and smaller spiny lobes which show vertical movement and possible spine extrusion. The difference is likely due to palaeotopography, as a large pyroclastic cone would have confined the small domes, while the flow lobes were unconfined and able to flow down slope. The vents at Ruawahia are aligned in a NE – SW orientation. Both domes are suggested to have formed from the intrusion of a dyke.

The orientations of the alignment or elongation of vents at Ngongotaha and Ruawahia can be attributed to the overall regional structure of the Taupo Volcanic Zone (TVZ). At Ngongotaha, the N – S trending elongated vent is suggested to be controlled by a N – S trending caldera collapse structure at Rotorua caldera. The rest of the lobes at Ngongotaha, as well as other domes at Rotorua caldera, are controlled by the NE – SW trending extensional regional structure or a NW – SE trending basement structure. The collapse of Rotorua caldera, and geometry of the deformation margin, are related to the interplay of these structures. At Ruawahia, the NE – SW trending vent zone is parallel to the regional extension across the OCC, as shown by the orientation of intrusion of the 1886AD dyke through the Tarawera dome complex.

The NE – SW trending regional structures observed at both Rotorua caldera and Okataina caldera complex are very similar to each other, but differ from extension within the Taupo rift to the south. Lava domes, such as Ngongotaha, that are controlled by this structure show that the ‘kink’ in the extension across Okataina caldera complex was active across Rotorua caldera during the collapse at 240 ka, and possibly earlier.

This study shows the evolution of dyke-fed lava domes during eruption, and the control of regional structures in the location and timing of eruption. These findings improve our knowledge of the evolution of porosity and permeability in a compacting lava dome, as well as of the structures of Rotorua caldera, the longevity of volcanic activity at dormant calderas and the hazard potential of dyke-fed lava domes.

lava dome, flow banding, caldera, uniaxial compaction, viscosity, dyke fed
Ngā upoko tukutuku/Māori subject headings
ANZSRC fields of research
Copyright Paul Ashwell