On March 19, 2008 a small explosive event accompanied the opening of a 35-m-wide vent (Overlook vent) on the southeast wall of Halema'uma'u Crater in Kīlauea Caldera, initiating an eruptive period that extends to the time of writing. The peak of activity, in 2008, consisted of alternating background open-system outgassing and spattering punctuated by sudden, short-lived weak explosions, triggered by collapses of the walls of the vent and conduit. Near-daily sampling of the tephra from this open system, along with exceptionally detailed observations, allow us to study the dynamics of the activity during two eruptive sequences in late 2008. Each sequence includes background activity preceding and following one or more explosions in September and October 2008 respectively. Componentry analyses were performed for daily samples to characterise the diversity of the ejecta. Nine categories of pyroclasts were identified in all the samples, including wall-rock fragments. The six categories of juvenile clasts can be grouped in three classes based on vesicularity: (1) poorly, (2) uniformly highly to extremely, and (3) heterogeneously highly vesicular. The wall-rock and juvenile clasts show dissimilar grainsize distributions, reflecting different fragmentation mechanisms. The wall-rock particles formed by failure of the vent and conduit walls above the magma free surface and were then passively entrained in the eruptive plume. The juvenile componentry reveals consistent contrasts in degassing and fragmentation processes before, during and after the explosive events. We infer a crude 'layering' developed in the shallow melt, in terms of both rheology and bubble and volatile contents, beneath a convecting free surface during background activity. A tens-of-centimetres thick viscoelastic surface layer was effectively outgassed and relatively cool, while at depths of less than 100 m, the melt remained slightly supersaturated in volatiles and actively vesiculating. Decoupled metre-sized bubbles rising through the column burst through the free surface frequently, ejecting fragments of the outgassed upper layer. When the surface was abruptly perturbed by the rock-falls, existing mm-sized bubbles expanded, leading to the acceleration of adjacent melt upward and consecutive explosions, while renewed nucleation created a minor population of 10-micron-sized bubbles. After each explosive event in September-October 2008, this layering was re-established but with decreasing vigour, suggesting that the magma batch as a whole was becoming progressively depleted in dissolved volatiles.
- Kīlauea volcano
- Open basaltic column