The stratigraphy and eruptive history of the Palaeogene Arran Volcanic Formation, western Scotland: a proximal record of caldera-forming eruptions

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Robert Gooday, David Brown, Kathryn M. Goodenough, Andrew Kerr


Caldera-forming volcanic eruptions are among the most dangerous, and can generate extensive pyroclastic deposits and deliver ash into global atmospheric circulation systems. As calderas collapse, the eruptions can deposit thick proximal ignimbrite sequences and thinner ignimbrites more distally. However, the proximal record of caldera collapse is often obscured by later intrusions, volcanism, faults, alteration, water and sediments, which significantly limits our understanding of these eruptions.
A Palaeogene caldera system in central Arran, western Scotland, preserves a rare proximal caldera-fill succession, the Arran Volcanic Formation. This caldera largely comprises highly heterogeneous ignimbrites and minor intra-caldera sedimentary rocks. The current level of erosion, and the general absence of faults, intrusions and sediments, allows a complex stratigraphy and collapse history to be determined, which can be linked to changing eruptive styles at a constantly-evolving volcano.
The first recorded phase was eruption of a homogeneous rhyolitic lava-like tuff, deposited from high temperature, high mass-flux pyroclastic density currents generated from low fountaining columns that retained heat. A succeeding phase of highly explosive Plinian eruptions, marked by a thick blanket of massive lapilli tuffs, was then followed by piston-like caldera collapse and erosion of steep caldera walls. Volcanism then became generally less explosive, with predominantly lava-like and eutaxitic tuffs and cognate-spatter-rich agglomerates interbedded with non- homogenous lapilli tuffs. High topographic relief between distinct units indicate long periods of volcanic quiescence, during which erosive processes dominated. These periods are, in several places, marked by sedimentary rocks and evidence for surface water, which includes a localised basaltic-andesitic phreatomagmatic tuff.
The caldera-forming eruptions recorded by the Arran Volcanic Formation provide an important insight into caldera collapse processes and proximal ignimbrite successions. The lack of thick autobreccias and lithic-rich lapilli- and block-layers indicates that subsidence was relatively gradual and incremental in this caldera, and not accompanied by catastrophic wall collapse during eruption. The relatively horizontal nature of the caldera-fill units and paucity of intra-caldera faulting, indicate piston subsidence was the dominant method of collapse, with a relatively coherent caldera floor bounded by a steeply-dipping ring fault. Possible resurgence may have caused later doming of the floor and radial distribution of subsequent ignimbrites and sedimentary rocks. Our work emphasises the continued need for field studies of caldera volcanoes.Proximal records of caldera-forming eruptions are relatively rare and the Arran Volcanic Formation provides evidence of these processes. The ignimbrites typically lack the thick autobreccias and lithic-rich lapilli- and block-layers expected of proximal eruptions, indicating that subsidence was relatively gradual and incremental in this caldera, and not accompanied by catastrophic wall collapse during eruption.



Earth Sciences, Physical Sciences and Mathematics, Volcanology


Caldera collapse, pyroclastic, eruptive history, lava-like ignimbrites, resurgence


Published: 2018-02-01 07:36

Last Updated: 2018-08-03 08:51

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