Primary and secondary fragmentation of crystal-bearing intermediate magma

Thomas J. Jones*, Keri McNamara, Julia Eychenne, Alison C. Rust, Katharine V. Cashman, Bettina Scheu, Robyn Edwards

*Corresponding author for this work

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

34 Citations (Scopus)
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Crystal-rich intermediate magmas are subjected to both primary and secondary fragmentation processes, each of which may produce texturally distinct tephra. Of particular interest for volcanic hazards is the extent to which each process contributes ash to volcanic plumes. One way to address this question is by fragmenting pyroclasts under controlled conditions. We fragmented pumice samples from Soufriere Hills Volcano (SHV), Montserrat, by three methods: rapid decompression in a shock tube-like apparatus, impact by a falling piston, and milling in a ball mill. Grain size distributions of the products reveal that all three mechanisms produce fractal breakage patterns, and that the fractal dimension increases from a minimum of ~ 2.1 for decompression fragmentation (primary fragmentation) to a maximum of ~ 2.7 by repeated impact (secondary fragmentation). To assess the details of the fragmentation process, we quantified the shape, texture and components of constituent ash particles. Ash shape analysis shows that the axial ratio increases during milling and that particle convexity increases with repeated impacts. We also quantify the extent to which the matrix is separated from the crystals, which shows that secondary processes efficiently remove adhering matrix from crystals, particularly during milling (abrasion). Furthermore, measurements of crystal size distributions before (using x-ray computed tomography) and after (by componentry of individual grain size classes) decompression-driven fragmentation show not only that crystals influence particular size fractions across the total grain size distribution, but also that free crystals are smaller in the fragmented material than in the original pumice clast. Taken together, our results confirm previous work showing both the control of initial texture on the primary fragmentation process and the contributions of secondary processes to ash formation. Critically, however, our extension of previous analyses to characterisation of shape, texture and componentry provides new analytical tools that can be used to assess contributions of secondary processes to ash deposits of uncertain or mixed origin. We illustrate this application with examples from SHV deposits.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)70-83
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research
Early online date2 Jul 2016
Publication statusPublished - 15 Nov 2016


  • Volcanic ash
  • Fragmentation
  • Broken crystals
  • Milling
  • Fractals
  • -ray computed tomography


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