Bromine monoxide / sulphur dioxide ratios in relation to volcanological observations at Mt. Etna 2006–2009
Over a 3-yr period, from 2006 to 2009, frequent scattered sunlight DOAS measurements were conducted at Mt. Etna at a distance of around 6 km downwind from the summit craters. During the same period and in addition to these measurements, volcanic observations were made by regularly visiting various parts of Mt. Etna.
Here, results from these measurements and observations are presented and their relation is discussed. The focus of the investigation is the bromine monoxide/sulphur dioxide (BrO / SO 2) ratio, and its variability in relation to volcanic processes.
That the halogen/sulphur ratio can serve as a precursor or indicator for the onset of eruptive activity was already proposed by earlier works (e.g. Noguchi and Kamiya 1963; Menyailov, 1975; Pennisi and Cloarec, 1998; Aiuppa et al., 2002). However, there is still a limited understanding today because of the complexity with which halogens are released, depending on magma composition and degassing conditions. Our understanding of these processes is far from complete, for example of the rate and mechanism of bubble nucleation, growth and ascent in silicate melts (Carroll and Holloway, 1994), the halogen vapour-melt partitioning and the volatile diffusivity in the melt (Aiuppa et al., 2009).
With this study we aim to add one more piece to the puzzle of what halogen/sulphur ratios might tell about volcanic activities. Our data set shows an increase of the BrO / SO 2 ratio several weeks prior to an eruption, followed by a decline before and during the initial phase of eruptive activities. Towards the end of activity or shortly thereafter, the ratio increases to baseline values again and remains more or less constant during quiet phases. To explain the observed evolution of the BrO / SO 2 ratio, a first empirical model is proposed. This model suggests that bromine, unlike chlorine and fluorine, is less soluble in the magmatic melt than sulphur.
By using the DOAS method to determine SO 2, we actually observe most of the emitted sulphur of Mt.~Etna. Regarding bromine, however, we are aware that by determining only the bromine monoxide (BrO) radical we might just observe a small or even a variable fraction of the total emitted bromine, which is most probable originally in the form of HBr. Therefore, we present first studies to justify the assumption that, despite the disadvantage just mentioned, the BrO / SO 2 ratio can nevertheless serve as a new parameter to indicate the state of a volcano, when measurements are conducted under certain, but rather convenient, conditions.