Exploring the Impact of Thermally-Controlled Crustal Viscosity on Volcanic Ground Deformation

Matthew Head, James Hickey, Joachim Gottsmann, Nicolas Fournier

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

17 Citations (Scopus)
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Volcanoes undergoing unrest often produce displacements at the ground surface, providing an important window to interpret the dynamics of the underlying magmatic system. The thermomechanical properties of the surrounding host rock are expected to be highly heterogeneous, with key physical parameters having a strong dependence on temperature. Deformation models that incorporate nonelastic rheological behaviors are therefore heavily reliant on the assumed thermal conditions, and so it is critical to understand how the thermomechanical crustal structure affects the observed deformation field. Here, we use a series of thermo-viscoelastic Finite Element models to explore how variations in thermal constraints (i.e., reservoir temperature and background geothermal gradient) affect surface displacement patterns when using the Maxwell and Standard Linear Solid (SLS) viscoelastic configurations. Our results demonstrate a strong variability in the viscoelastic deformation response when changing the imposed thermal constraints, caused by the partitioning of deformation and the dissipation of induced stresses. When using the SLS rheology, we identify that cumulative long-term displacements can vary by over 20%, relative to a reference model with a reservoir temperature of 900°C and background geothermal gradient of 30 K km−1. The relative change increases to a maximum of 35% when thermal weakening of the Young's modulus is also considered. Contrastingly, the deformation patterns of the Maxwell rheology are governed by unbounded displacements and complete stress relaxation. Ultimately, we outline that uncertainties in the thermal constraints can have a significant impact on best-fit source parameters (e.g., size and depth) and overpressure/volume-change loading histories inferred from thermo-viscoelastic models.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2020JB020724
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth
Issue number8
Early online date27 Jul 2021
Publication statusPublished - 11 Aug 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
M. Head is supported by a Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) GW4+ Doctoral Training Partnership studentship (NE/L002434/1) and is thankful for the support and additional funding from CASE partner, GNS Science. J. Gottsmann acknowledges financial support from NERC grants NE/S008845/1 and NE/L013932/1. Numerical modeling was carried out using COMSOL Multiphysics® ( https://uk.comsol.com ). Several figures in this manuscript were produced using the Generic Mapping Tools (Wessel et al., 2013 ) and feature the Scientific Color Maps (Crameri, 2018 ). We are grateful to Y. Zhan and an anonymous reviewer for their insightful critique and constructive comments, which helped to greatly improve the manuscript, and to Editor S. Parman for the handling of the review process.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021. The Authors.


  • viscoelasticity
  • rheology
  • volcanic deformation
  • numerical modeling
  • thermomechanical
  • temperature-dependence


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