Anatomy of phreatic eruptions

Publication Type:

Journal Article


Earth Planets and Space, Volume 70 (2018)


This study investigates phreatic eruptions at two similar volcanoes, Kawah Ijen (Indonesia) and White Island (New Zealand). By carefully processing broadband seismic signals, we reveal seismic signatures and characteristics of these eruptions. At both volcanoes, the phreatic eruptions are initiated by a very-long-period (VLP) seismic event located at shallow depths between 700 and 900m below the crater region, and may be triggered by excitation of gas trapped behind a ductile magma carapace. The shallow hydrothermal systems respond in different ways. At Kawah Ijen, the stress change induced by VLPs directly triggers an eigenoscillation of the hyperacidic lake. This so-called seiche is characterized by long-lasting, long-period oscillations with frequencies governed by the dimensions of the crater lake. A progressive lateral rupture of a seal below the crater lake and/or fluids migrating toward the surface is seismically recorded similar to 15min later as high-frequencybursts superimposed to tilt signals. At White Island, the hydrothermal system later (similar to 25min) responds by radiating harmonic tremor at a fixed location that could be generated through eddy-shedding. These seismic signals shed light on several aspects of phreatic eruptions, their generation and timeline. They are mostly recorded at periods longer than tens of seconds further emphasizing the need to deploy broadband seismic equipment close to active volcanic activity.