Continuous mush disaggregation during the long-lasting Laki fissure eruption, Iceland

Igneous rock textures encode important information about magma reservoir dynamics. Specifically, the size, shape and abundance of crystals can record multiple phases of crystallisation and magma mixing. However, characterising rock textures using traditional manual methods is extremely time consuming. However, the potential for quantifying textures with automated mineralogical methods, which have seen widespread use in the ore petrology community for some time, has yet to be evaluated.

We investigated samples from across the long-lasting Laki fissure eruption, Iceland, in order determine whether crystal mush occurred at the start of the eruption, or throughout its eight-month duration – an important consideration for understanding magma reservoir dynamics and geometry. We did this by using traditional approaches to determine phase proportions and plagioclase size distribtuions, as well as novel QEMSCAN-based approaches. Although we found significant differences between the manaul and automated datasets, largely because of the inability to easily segment glomerocrysts in the latter, being able to easily combine textural and compositional data was a powerful advantage of the automated approach.

Combined composition-size distributions of plagioclase in samples from the Laki eruption. A0.5 is the square root of crystal area. Figure from Neave et al. (2017).

By fitting high-quality, manually derived plagioclase size distributions, we estimated that mush disaggregation occurred around ten days before the eruption of each sample. These observations, which align well with findings from other stidies (Hartley et al. 2015; 2016), suggest that mush disaggregation was progressive and occurred throughout the eruption: the total volume of eruptable magma active at any given time was much less than the final erupoted volume of 15.1 km3.


Neave, D. A., Buisman, I. & Maclennan, J. 2017. Continuous mush disaggregation during the long-lasting Laki fissure eruption, Iceland. American Mineralogist 102, 2007–2021. <Open Access>