Analogue experiments on the rise of large bubbles through a solids-rich suspension: A “weak plug” model for Strombolian eruptions

J. Oppenheimer*, A. Capponi, K. V. Cashman, S. J. Lane, A. C. Rust, M. R. James

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

29 Citations (Scopus)
62 Downloads (Pure)


Physical interactions between bubbles and crystals affect gas migration and may play a major role in eruption dynamics of crystal-rich magmas. Strombolian eruptions represent an end member for bubble-crystal interactions, in which large bubbles (significantly larger than the crystal size) rise through a crystal-rich near-surface magma. Indeed, volcanoes that produce Strombolian eruptions often generate ejecta with > 30 vol% (often > 45 vol%) average crystallinity. At Stromboli Volcano, Italy, average crystallinity can reach 55 vol%, which is approaching the eruptibility limit for magmas. At such high crystallinities the solids interact mechanically with each other and with bubbles. This complex rheology complicates the two-phase (liquid-gas) slug flow model often applied to Strombolian eruptions. To examine the effect of crystals on bubble rise, we performed analogue experiments in which large bubbles rise in a vertical tube filled with silicone oil and polypropylene particles. The particles have a slightly lower density than the oil, and therefore form a layer of oil + particles at the upper surface. We varied surface pressure, particle volume fraction, length of the particle-bearing cap, and bubble size to examine the ways in which these parameters influence Strombolian-type eruptions. We show that in experiments, suspended solids begin to affect bubble rise dynamics at particle volume fractions as low as 30 vol% (or, when divided by the random close packing value, a normalized particle fraction φ=0.64). Bubbles in experiments with higher particle contents deform as they rise and burst through a small aperture, generating surface fountains that begin abruptly and decay slowly, and longer-lasting acoustic signals of lower amplitude than in particle-poor experiments. Particle fractions > 38 vol% (φ>0.80) generated strong deformations on fast-expanding bubbles that applied a high stress on the cap, but they trapped bubbles that were less overpressured. Qualitatively, the gas release behavior observed in particle-rich experiments is consistent with observations of Strombolian eruptions. Moreover, we estimate that the observed crystallinity of pyroclasts at Stromboli volcano represents φ>0.8. From this we suggest a “weak plug” model for Strombolian eruptions that evolves towards a low-viscosity equivalent of Vulcanian-style plug failure with a more crystalline, stronger, and less permeable plug. Importantly, this model allows the rise of several bubbles in the conduit at the same time and suggests that longer-lasting, more pulsatory and complex eruptions may reveal an increase in near-surface crystallinity, shedding some light on changing conduit conditions that could help determine the different gas rise regimes involved in passive degassing, puffing, and different expressions of Strombolian explosions.

Original languageEnglish
Article number115931
Number of pages12
JournalEarth and Planetary Science Letters
Early online date13 Nov 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2020


  • Eruption dynamics
  • Stromboli
  • Source mechanism
  • three-phase magma
  • Conduit processes
  • Analogue experiments


Dive into the research topics of 'Analogue experiments on the rise of large bubbles through a solids-rich suspension: A “weak plug” model for Strombolian eruptions'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this