Can vesicle size distributions assess eruption intensity during volcanic activity?
We studied three-dimensional (3-D) vesicle size distributions by X-ray microtomography in scoria collected during the relatively quiescent Phase II of the April–May 2010 eruption at Eyjafjallajökull volcano, Iceland. Our goal was to compare cumulative vesicle size distributions (VSDs) measured in these samples with those found in Stromboli volcano, Italy. Stromboli was chosen because its VSDs are well-characterized and show a correlation with eruption intensity: typical Strombolian activity produces VSDs with power-law exponents near 1, whereas larger and more energetic vulcanian-type explosions and Plinian eruptions produce VSDs with power-law exponents near 1.5. The first hypothesis to be tested was whether or not the samples studied in this work would contain VSDs similar to normal Strombolian products, display higher power-law exponents, or be described by exponential functions. Before making this comparison, we tested a second hypothesis, which was that the magma–water interactions in the Eyjafjallajökull eruption might have a significant effect on the VSDs. We performed 1 bar bubble-growth experiments in which the samples were inundated with water and compared them to similar control experiments without water inundation. No significant differences between the VSDs of the two sets of experiments were found, and the second hypothesis is not supported by the experimental evidence. The Phase II Eyjafjallajökull VSDs are described by power-law exponents of ~0.8, typical of normal Strombolian eruptions, and support the first hypothesis. The comparable VSDs and behavior of Phase II of the Eyjafjallajökull 2010 eruption to Stromboli are interpreted to be a reflection of similar conduit systems in both volcanoes that are being constantly fed by the ascent of mingled/mixed magma from depth. Such behavior implies that continued activity during Phase II of the Eyjafjallajökull eruption could be expected and would have been predicted, had our VSDs been measured in real time during the eruption. However, the products studied show no peculiar feature that could herald the renewed eruption intensity observed in the following Phase III of the eruption.