Clinopyroxene dissolution records rapid magma ascent

David Neave, John Maclennan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Magma ascent rates control volcanic eruption styles. However, the rates at which basaltic magmas ascend through the crust remain highly uncertain. Although recent studies have success fully exploited records of decompression driven degassing to estimate the rates at which H2O-rich basalts ascend, such approaches cannot readily be applied to primitive and H2O-poor basalts that erupt in ocean island and mid-ocean ridge settings. Here we present magma ascent rates obtained by modelling the dissolution of clinopyroxene crystals in a wehrlitic nodule from the primitive Borgarhraun lava flow in North Iceland. High-Al2O3 clinopyroxene core compositions are consistent with crystallisation near the Moho (∼800 MPa), whereas low-Al2O3 clinopyroxene rims and inclusion compositions are consistent with crystallisation at or near the surface. We interpret low-Al2O3 rims and inclusions as the crystallised remnants of boundary layers formed by the dissolution of high-Al2O3 clinopyroxene during magma ascent. By combining characteristic rim dissolution lengths of 50–100 µm with published experimental calibrations of clinopyroxene dissolution behaviour, we estimate that the Borgarhraun magma most likely decompressed and ascended at rates of 3.0–15 kPa.s−1 and 0.11–0.53 m.s−1 respectively. These rates are slightly faster than published estimates obtained by modelling the diffusive re-equilibration of olivine crystals, suggesting that the Borgarhraun magma either accelerated upwards or that it stalled briefly at depth prior to final ascent. Comparisons with other basaltic eruptions indicate that the H2O-poor magma that fed the dominantly effusive Borgarhraun eruption ascended at a similar rate to some H2O-rich magmas that have fed explosive eruptions in arc settings. Thus, magma ascent rates do not appear to correlate simply with magma H2O contents. Overall, our findings confirm that primitive and H2O-poor basalts can traverse the crust within days, and may erupt with little precursory warning of magma ascent.
Original languageEnglish
JournalFrontiers in Earth Science
Publication statusPublished - 10 Jun 2020


  • magma ascent rate
  • plumbing system
  • clinopyroxene dissolution
  • basalt
  • disequilibrium
  • Iceland


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