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Fracture mechanics of volcanic eruptions

Matthews, C.; (2009) Fracture mechanics of volcanic eruptions. Doctoral thesis, UCL (University College London). Green open access

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Abstract

Seismology is a key tool in the forecasting of volcanic eruptions. The onset of an eruption is often preceded and accompanied by an increase in local seismic activity, driven by fracturing within the edifice. For closed systems, with a repose interval of the order of a century or more, this fracturing must occur in order to create a pathway for the magma to reach the surface. Time-to-failure forecasting models have been shown to be consistent with seismic acceleration patterns prior to eruptions at volcanoes in subduction zone settings. The aim of this research is to investigate the patterns in seismic activity produced by a failure model based on fundamental fracture mechanics, applied to a volcanic setting. In addition to the time series of earthquake activity, statistical measures such as seismic b-value are also analysed and compared with corresponding data from the field and laboratory studies. A greater understanding of the physical factors controlling fracture development and volcano-tectonic activity is required to enhance our forecasting capability. The one dimensional, fracture mechanics grid model developed in this work is consistent with the theory of growth and coalescence of multi-scale fractures as a controlling factor on magma ascent. The multi-scale fracture model predicts an initial exponential increase in the rate of seismicity, progressing to a hyperbolic increase that leads to eruption. The proposed model is run with variations in material and load properties, and produces exponential accelerations in activity with further development to a hyperbolic increase in some instances. In particular, the model reproduces patterns of acceleration in seismicity observed prior to eruptions at Mt. Pinatubo (1991) and Soufriere Hills (1995). The emergence of hyperbolic activity is associated with a mechanism of crack growth dominated by interaction and coalescence of neighbouring cracks, again consistent with the multi-scale fracture model. The model can also produce increasing sequences of activity that do not culminate in an eruption; an occurrence often observed in the field. Scaling properties of propagating fractures are also considered. The seismic bvalue reaches a minimum at the time of failure, similar to observations from the field and measurements of acoustic emissions in the laboratory. Similarly, the fractal dimension describing the fracture magnitude distribution follows trends consistent with other observations for failing materials. The spatial distribution of activity in the model emerges as a fractal distribution, even with an initially random location of fractures along the grid. Significant shifts in the temporal or spatial scaling parameters have been proposed as an indication of change in controlling factors on a volcanic system, and therefore represent a relatively unexplored approach in the art of eruption forecasting.

Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Title:Fracture mechanics of volcanic eruptions
Open access status:An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language:English
UCL classification:UCL > School of BEAMS > Faculty of Maths and Physical Sciences > Earth Sciences

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