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Instituto de Investigação
em Vulcanologia e Avaliação de Riscos
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Referência Bibliográfica

KUEPPERS, U., NICHOLS, ARL., ZANON, V., POTUZAK, M., PACHECO, J. (2012): Lava balloons – Proof of submarine, non-emergent eruptions. Bulletin of Volcanology, vol. 74, nº. 6. p. 1379-1393. DOI 10.1007/s00445-012-0597x.


Between December 1998 and April 2001, a submarine basaltic eruption occurred west of Terceira Island, Azores (Portugal) in water depths between 300 and 1,000 m. Physical evidence for the eruption was provided by the periodic occurrence of hot lava balloonsfloating on the sea surface. The balloons consisted of a large gas-filled cavity surrounded by a thin shell (a few centimetres thick). The shells of the collected balloons are composed of two layers, termed the outer layer and the inner layer, defined by different bubble number density, bubble sizes and crystal content. The inner layer is further divided into three sublayers defined by more subtle differences in vesicularity. The outer layer is glassy, golden-coloured and highly porous. It shows signs of fluidal deformation and latestage extension cracks. Interstitial glass contains 0.29 wt% H2O and CO2 is below detection. Melt inclusions contain up to 1.18 wt% H2O and 1,500 ppm CO2 (from different inclusions). Cooling rates of the outermost glass of the outer layer are found to be as high as 1,259 K/s. During ascent of low viscosity magma to the ocean floor, volatiles, dominated by CO2, exsolved from the magma (melt + crystals). The buoyancy of the vapour phase that accumulated below a thin crust on lava ponded at the vent caused bulging and ultimately cracking of the crust. This allowed large bubbles (central cavity) surrounded by a film of vesicular magma (balloon shell) to leak into the water column. On contact with the seawater, the outermost part of the outer layer of the shell hyperquenched. If an entirely closed shell was produced during detachment, the trapped gas inside allowed buoyant rise. Only balloons with the right balance of physical properties (e.g. size and bulk density) rose all the way to the sea surface.