The unexpected explosive sub-Plinian eruption of Calbuco volcano (22-23 April 2015; southern Chile): Triggering mechanism implications
Plinian-type eruptions are extremely hazardous, producing pyroclastic fallout and flows extending many kilometres from the vent. The most commonly invoked eruption trigger for Plinian-type eruptions is the intrusion of fresh magma, generally associated with precursory ground deformation and seismicity days/weeks before eruption. Closed-system internal triggering has also been proposed, such as protracted crystallisation of magma, which can produce a build-up of exsolved volatiles and thus pressurise the system prior to eruption. On 22-23 April 2015 Calbuco volcano, Chile, produced a sub-Plinian eruption with <3 h seismic precursory activity and no clear deformation signals in the preceding months. Here, we show that petrological and geochemical evidence do not support a hypothesis of eruption triggering due to pre-eruptive intrusion of fresh magma, but instead are consistent with an internal trigger. We found that basaltic andesitic magma was stored at depths between 8 and 12 km (i.e. 230-320 MPa) beneath Calbuco volcano before the 2015 eruption. The stored magma had an initial temperature of 900-950 °C, was water-saturated (5.5-6.5 wt% H2O) and formed phenocrysts of titanomagnetite, orthopyroxene, clinopyroxene and plagioclase cores (An78-93). Gradual cooling of the magma chamber produced thermal gradients and magma convection, evidenced by plagioclase overgrowth rims (An58-77) and blocky microlites (25-250 μm). Our interpretation is that this continuing crystallisation induced second boiling and an over-pressurisation of the system, leading to the rapid onset of the 2015 eruption. Petrological and geochemical evidence therefore shows that a closed-system magma chamber can evolve into a highly explosive eruption with very little precursory warning, posing a challenge for current volcano monitoring paradigms. We propose that internal triggering should be carefully considered as a mechanism for unexpected sub-Plinian eruptions, prompting a potential revision of existing hazard management strategies.