Phreatomagmatic to Strombolian eruptive activity of basaltic cinder cones: Montaña Los Erales, Tenerife, Canary Islands
Phreatomagmatic activity results from the interaction of magma and external water during a volcanic eruption and is a frequent eruptive phenomenon worldwide. Such 'fuel-coolant' reactions change the eruptive dynamics, thus generating particles that reflect the degree of explosivity. Different eruptive phases may thus be identified from deposits, allowing us to reconstruct conditions that prevailed in the past and use these to predict the level of explosivity in a given geological setting in the future. A detailed study of the deposits from Montaña Los Erales, a 70 m-high Quaternary cinder cone belonging to a rift-related chain of vents in the Bandas del Sur region, in Southeast Tenerife, was undertaken. Field observations on excavated sections and SEM analysis of tephra suggest that the eruption style changed progressively from an initial phreatomagmatic phase, through a transitional stage, to one that was entirely Strombolian. To investigate the causes and the nature of these changes in eruptive style, products from each major unit were analysed for their morphology using hand specimen observations, secondary electron microscopy, backscatter electron microscopy, and reflected light microscopy to examine fragment size variation, fragment morphologies, vesicularity, and the level of secondary hydrous alteration (e.g. palagonitisation and zeolitisation). Study results demonstrate that the initial phase of activity was largely driven by magma-water interaction, where magma may have interacted with a lens of fresh ground- or surface water. With proceeding eruptive activity the water became exhausted, giving rise to an entirely Strombolian eruptive style. Examples of phreatomagmatic activity that occur on typical rift-related basaltic vent alignments are not infrequent in the Canary Islands. These vent systems usually erupt in Strombolian fashion, producing scoria and lava flows that do not generally extend far beyond the vent area. However, aligned feeders may intersect different strata, structural features, and different hydrological situations, thus giving rise to activity that is less predictable in setting, intensity, and duration. The occurrence of phreatomagmatism in an otherwise low-explosivity basaltic eruptive environment increases the need for awareness of the geo-hydrological situation in volcanically active areas. Studying the past eruptive history is therefore essential to derive realistic scenarios for future vulnerability evaluation and risk assessment, especially in densely populated areas like the Canary Islands.