Causes of fragmented crystals in ignimbrites: a case study of the Cardones ignimbrite, Northern Chile

M. E. van Zalinge*, K. V. Cashman, R. S.J. Sparks

*Corresponding author for this work

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

15 Citations (Scopus)
322 Downloads (Pure)


Broken crystals have been documented in many large-volume caldera-forming ignimbrites and can help to understand the role of crystal fragmentation in both eruption and compaction processes, the latter generally overlooked in the literature. This study investigates the origin of fragmented crystals in the > 1260 km3, crystal-rich Cardones ignimbrites located in the Central Andes. Observations of fragmented crystals in non-welded pumice clasts indicate that primary fragmentation includes extensive crystal breakage and an associated ca. 5 vol% expansion of individual crystals while preserving their original shapes. These observations are consistent with the hypothesis that crystals fragment in a brittle response to rapid decompression associated with the eruption. Additionally, we observe that the extent of crystal fragmentation increases with increasing stratigraphic depth in the ignimbrite, recording secondary crystal fragmentation during welding and compaction. Secondary crystal fragmentation aids welding and compaction in two ways. First, enhanced crystal fragmentation at crystal-crystal contacts accommodates compaction along the principal axis of stress. Second, rotation and displacement of individual crystal fragments enhances lateral flow in the direction(s) of least principal stress. This process increases crystal aspect ratios and forms textures that resemble mantled porphyroclasts in shear zones, indicating lateral flow adds to processes of compaction and welding alongside bubble collapse. In the Cardones ignimbrite, secondary fragmentation commences at depths of 175–250 m (lithostatic pressures 4–6 MPa), and is modulated by both the overlying crystal load and the time spent above the glass transition temperature. Under these conditions, the existence of force-chains can produce stresses at crystal-crystal contacts of a few times the lithostatic pressure. We suggest that documenting crystal textures, in addition to conventional welding parameters, can provide useful information about welding processes in thick crystal-rich ignimbrites.
Original languageEnglish
Article number22
Number of pages15
JournalBulletin of Volcanology
Issue number3
Early online date13 Feb 2018
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2018


  • Compaction
  • Crystal
  • Deformation
  • Fragmentation
  • Ignimbrite
  • Welding


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