Fallout of Pyroclastic Debris from Submarine Volcanic Eruptions

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Science  19 Jul 1991:
Vol. 253, Issue 5017, pp. 275-280
DOI: 10.1126/science.253.5017.275


Volcanic fallout deposits on land, being widespread and accessible for study, have received much attention and have revealed a great deal about subaerial eruption mechanisms. In contrast, virtually nothing is known about equivalent deposits produced by submarine volcanoes, despite the probable abundance of such material in today's oceans and in accreted volcanic arc terrains. Many submarine deposits may form by the fallout of debris to the sea floor downcurrent from the umbrella region of submarine eruption columns. Experiments on water-saturated pumice and pieces of rock (lithics) show that particles settling to the sea floor at terminal velocities of 10 to 50 centimeters per second will display conspicuous bimodality of particle diameters: pieces of pumice may be five to ten times as large as codeposited lithic fragments. Similar material, erupted into the air and deposited on land, displays less well-developed bimodality; pumice diameters are generally two to three times as large as associated lithics. Submarine fallout deposits are therefore distinctive and may be used to indicate a subaqueous origin for some of the great thicknesses of nonfossiliferous volcanic debris contained in ancient volcanic terrains worldwide whose environment of deposition has been uncertain.