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Pyroclastic density currents have been observed to both enter the sea, and to travel over water for tens of kilometers. Here, we identified a 1.2-m-thick, stratified pumice lapilli-ash cored at Site U1396 offshore Montserrat (Integrated Ocean Drilling Program [IODP] Expedition 340) as being the first deposit to provide evidence that it was formed by submarine deposition from pumice-rich pyroclastic density currents that traveled above the water surface. The age of the submarine deposit is ca. 4 Ma, and its magma source is similar to those for much younger Soufrière Hills deposits, indicating that the island experienced large-magnitude, subaerial caldera-forming explosive eruptions much earlier than recorded in land deposits. The deposit’s combined sedimentological characteristics are incompatible with deposition from a submarine eruption, pyroclastic fall over water, or a submarine seafloor-hugging turbidity current derived from a subaerial pyroclastic density current that entered water at the shoreline. The stratified pumice lapilli-ash unit can be subdivided into at least three depositional units, with the lowermost one being clast supported. The unit contains grains in five separate size modes and has a >12 phi range. Particles are chiefly subrounded pumice clasts, lithic clasts, crystal fragments, and glass shards. Pumice clasts are very poorly segregated from other particle types, and lithic clasts occur throughout the deposit; fine particles are weakly density graded. We interpret the unit to record multiple closely spaced (<2 >d) hot pyroclastic density currents that flowed over the ocean, releasing pyroclasts onto the water surface, and settling of the various pyroclasts into the water column. Our settling and hot and cold flotation experiments show that waterlogging of pumice clasts at the water surface would have been immediate. The overall poor hydraulic sorting of the deposit resulted from mixing of particles from multiple pulses of vertical settling in the water column, attesting to complex sedimentation. Slow-settling particles were deposited on the seafloor together with faster-descending particles that were delivered at the water surface by subsequent pyroclastic flows. The final sediment pulses were eventually deflected upon their arrival on the seafloor and were deposited in laterally continuous facies. This study emphasizes the interaction between products of explosive volcanism and the ocean and discusses sedimentological complexities and hydrodynamics associated with particle delivery to water.


Earth Systems Research Center

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GSA Bulletin


Geological Society of America (GSA)

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© The Authors.


This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Geological Society of America (GSA) in GSA Bulletin in 2017, available online: