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Types and Processes Gallery - Magma meets Water

Magma meets Water
The interaction of magma with water near Earth's surface can intensify explosive eruptions. Steam-driven explosive eruptions, known as phreatic eruptions, can occur when an ascending magma body encounters groundwater. The ensuing eruptions often do not involve any ejection of new magma, but rather the fragmentation and explosive expulsion of pre-existing rock along the path of the volcanic conduit. Phreatic eruptions are gradational into magmatic eruptions, and many eruptions in fact involve the ejection of both old and new volcanic materials and are referred to as phreatomagmatic. Phreatic eruptions are sometimes accompanied by pyroclastic surges, dilute laterally moving clouds of gas, ash, and rock that sweep radially away from the vent.

A small phreatic eruption on 29 February 1980, produces a column of ash and steam above Ruapehu's Crater Lake. A darker center plume is surrounded by a white ring produced by pyroclastic surges traveling across the lake surface. This view is from the NW, with Mitre Peak at the upper left. A series of small phreatic explosions had begun on 5 December 1979 and lasted until 15 April the following year.

Photo by Peter Otway, 1980 (New Zealand Geological Survey).

The interaction of magma and water can produce strong phreatic (steam-driven) explosions, such as in this 1980 photo of New Zealand's Ruapehu volcano. Ash and steam trail from large ejected blocks in the eruption column. Pyroclastic surge can be seen traveling radially along the surface of a crater lake. Phreatic or phreatomagmatic explosions are common at submarine volcanoes, crater lakes, and other places where hot magma (or associated gases) encounters surface water or groundwater.

Photo by Hollick, 1980, courtesy of Bruce Houghton (Wairakei Research Center).

A Surtseyan eruption on 8 May 1971 at Crater Lake at the summit of Ruapehu volcano in New Zealand ejects a dark cock’s tail jet of volcanic ash, mud, and steam. Individual ejected blocks can be seen at the margins of the plume. This type of eruption column is typical of explosions that involve water-magma interactions.

Photo by Peter Otway, 1971 (New Zealand Geological Survey).

Kelut volcano has been notorious for the repeated ejection of crater lake water during eruptions, producing devastating lahars. A series of tunnels and shafts were constructed in the 1920s to lower the lake level and reduce the hazards of eruptions. The initial tunnels lowered the lake level 50 m, but the 1951 eruption deepened the crater by 70 m, leaving 50 million m3 of water. Following another devastating eruption in 1966, lower outlet tunnels were constructed, and prior to the 1990 eruption the lake contained only 1 million m3 of water.

Photo by John Dvorak, 1980 (U.S. Geological Survey).

The turquoise waters of Yugama, one of three craters at the summit of Japan's Kusatsu-Shirane volcano, are a popular tourist destination. Yellow rafts of sulfur float on the surface of the acidic lake, which prior to an eruption in 1882, was clear with forested walls. Frequent phreatic explosions have occurred from Yugama and the two other summit craters during historical time. This 1981 photo was taken from the south crater rim.

Copyrighted photo by Dick Stoiber, 1981 (Dartmouth College).

A phreatomagmatic explosion on 25 December 1988 at Japan's Tokachi volcano ejects incandescent blocks and a dark ash cloud. At the base of the ash plume is the leading edge of a small pyroclastic surge that eventually traveled down the N flank to 1 km from the vent. The 1988 eruption began with a phreatic explosion on 16 December. Intermittent explosive eruptions with small pyroclastic flows and surges began on 19 December and continued until 5 March 1989.

Photo courtesy of Japan Meteorological Agency, 1988.

Maly Semyachik
A crater lake fills Troitsky crater, the youngest of six craters capping the elongated summit of Maly Semiachik volcano in central Kamchatka. Steam rises from the surface of the hot, acidic crater lake in this early 1970s photo. The lake has a maximum depth of about 140 m. Temperatures as high as 41°C have been recorded, along with pH levels down to 0.4.

Photo by Oleg Volynets (Institute of Volcanology, Petropavlovsk).

On 9 May 1994, a fresh black lava flow is erupted onto the glacier-covered caldera floor of Veniaminof volcano on the Alaska Peninsula. The source of the lava flow is a cinder cone that is obscured by steam to the upper right. Concentric fractures on the glacier surface are created as the lava flow melts through the glacial ice.

Photo by Chris Nye, 1994 (Alaska Division of Geological and Geophysical Surveys).

Ukinrek Maars
The interaction of magma with groundwater produced this dark, ash-rich eruption column in 1977 from the Ukinrek Maars on the Alaska Peninsula. The eruption occurred in an area without previous volcanic activity, through surficial glacial deposits. The phreatomagmatic explosions created two new craters, which were named after the Yupik words for "two holes in the ground." This photo was taken from the WSW on 6 April 1977.

Photo by R. Russell, 1977 (Alaska Department of Fish and Game).

An ejection of steam and ash rises above the surface of the crater lake of Poás volcano in July 1977. The white ring at the base of the eruption plume is a steam cloud that is traveling along the surface of the lake. Mild phreatic explosions such as this one were typical of the eruption that began in May 1977 and lasted at least until July. The crater walls rise about 250 m above the lake.

Photo by S. Racchini, 1977 (Universidad Nacional Costa Rica, courtesy of Jorge Barquero).

Soufriere St. Vincent
This December 1971 photo shows a lava dome rising above the surface of a crater lake on Soufrière St. Vincent volcano in the West Indies. The lake temperature rose to 80°C during extrusion of the dome, but despite the presence of new magma in the crater no explosive activity occurred during the eruption.

Photo by Jack Frost, 1971.