Springer Nature is making SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 research free. View research | View latest news | Sign up for updates

Basaltic thermals and Subplinian plumes: Constraints from acoustic measurements at Shishaldin volcano, Alaska


The 1999 basaltic eruption of Shishaldin volcano (Alaska, USA) included both Strombolian and Subplinian activity, as well as a “pre-Subplinian” phase interpreted as the local coalescence within a long foam in the conduit. Although few visual observations were made of the eruption, a great deal of information regarding gas velocity, gas flux at the vent and plume height may be inferred by using acoustic recordings of the eruption. By relating acoustic power to gas velocity, a time series of gas velocity is calculated for the Subplinian and pre-Subplinian phases. These time series show trends in gas velocity that are interpreted as plumes or, for those signals lasting only a short time, thermals. The Subplinian phase is shown to be composed of a thermal followed by five plumes with a total expelled gas volume of \(\approx\!1.5 \times 10^{7}\;{\rm m}^{3}\).

The initiation of the Subplinian activity is probably related to the arrival of a large overpressurised bubble close to the top of the magma column. A gradual increase in low-frequency (0.01–0.5 Hz) signal prior to this “trigger bubble” may be due to the rise of the bubble in the conduit. This delay corresponds to a reservoir located at ≈3.9 km below the surface, in good agreement with studies on other volcanoes.

The presence of two thermal phases is also identified in the middle of the pre-Subplinian phase with a total gas release of \(\approx \!4.3 \times 10^{6}\;{\rm m}^{3}\) and \(\approx \!3.6 \times 10^{6}\;{\rm m}^{3}\). Gas velocity at the vent is found to be \(\approx \!82\, {\rm m.s}^{-1}\) and \(\approx \!90\, {\rm m.s}^{-1}\) for the Subplinian plumes and the pre-Subplinian thermals respectively.

The agreement is very good between estimates of the gas flux from modelling the plume height and those obtained from acoustic measurements, leading to a new method by which eruption physical parameters may be quantified. Furthermore, direct measurements of gas velocity can be used for better estimates of the \({\rm SO}_{2}\) flux released during the eruption.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4
Fig. 5
Fig. 6
Fig. 7
Fig. 8
Fig. 9
Fig. 10
Fig. 11
Fig. 12


  1. Alidibirov MA (1994) A model for viscous magma fragmentation during volcanic blasts. Bull Volcanol 56:459–465.

  2. Andres RJ, Rose WI (1995) Remote sensing spectrometry of volcanic plumes and clouds. In: McGuire WJ, Kilburn C, Murray J (eds) Monitoring active volcanoes. University College London, London.

  3. Batchelor GK (1967) An introduction to fluid dynamics. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

  4. Beget J, Nye C, Stelling P (1998) Postglacial collapse and regrowth of Shishaldin volcano, Alaska, based on historic and prehistoric tephrochronology. Eos Trans Am Geophys Union 79:F979

  5. Buckingham MJ, Garcés MA (1996) A canonical model of volcano acoustics. J Geophys Res 101:8129–8151

  6. Caplan-Auerbach J, McNutt SR (2003) New insights into the 1999 eruption of Shishaldin volcano based on acoustic data. Bull Volcanol 65:405–417

  7. Carey S, Sigurdsson H, Gardner JE, Criswell W (1990) Variations in column height and magma discharge during the May 18, 1980 eruption of Mount St-Helens. J Volcanol Geotherm Res 43:99–112

  8. Chouet B, Hamisevicz N, McGetchin TR (1974) Photoballistics of volcanic jet activity at Stromboli, Italy. J Geophys Res 79:4961–4975

  9. Coltelli M, Del Carlo P, Vezzoli L (1995) Stratigraphy of the Holocene Mt. Etna explosion eruptions. Periodico di Mineralogia 64:141–143

  10. Coltelli M, Del Carlo P, Vezzoli L (2000) Stratigraphic constraints for explosive activity in the past 100 ka at Etna volcano, Italy. Int J Earth Sci 89:665–677

  11. Dehn J, Dean KG, Engle K, Izbekov P (2002) Thermal precursors in satellite images of the 1999 eruption of Shishaldin Volcano. Bull Volcanol 64:525–534

  12. Druitt TH, Young SR, Baptie B, Bonadonna C, Calder ES, Clarke AB, Cole PD, Harford CL, Herd RA, Luckett R, Ryan G, Voight B (2002) Episodes of cyclic Vulcanian explosive activity with fountain collapse at Soufrière Hills Volcano, Montserrat. In: Druitt TH, Kokelaar BP (eds) The eruptions of Soufrière Hills Volcano, Montserrat, from 1995 to 1999. Geol Soc London Mem 21:281–306

  13. Dubosclard G, Cordesses R, Allard P, Hervier C, Coltelli M, Kornprobst J (1999) First testing of a volcano Dopler radar (Voldorad) Mat Mount Etna, Italy. Geophys Res Lett 26:3389–3392

  14. Dubosclard G, Donnadieu F, Allard P, Cordesses R, Hervier C, Coltelli M, Privitera E, Kornprobst J (2004) Doppler radar sounding of volcanic eruption dynamics at Mount Etna. Bull Volcanol 66 5:443–456

  15. Fabre J, Linné A (1992) Modelling of two-phase slug flow. Ann Rev Fluid Mech 24:21–46

  16. Garcés MA, McNutt SR (1997) Theory of the airborne sound field generated in a resonant magma conduit. J Volcanol Geotherm Res 78:155–178

  17. Hagerty MT, Schwartz SY, Garcés MA, Protti M (2000) Analysis of seismic and acoustic observations at Arenal Volcano, Costa Rica, 1995–1997. J Volcanol Geotherm Res 101:27–65

  18. Hoblitt RP, Wolfe EW, Scott WE, Couchman MR, Palister JS, Javier D (1996) The pre-climatic eruptions of Mount Pinatubo, June 1991. In: Newhall CG, Punongbayan RS (eds) Fire and mud: eruptions and lahars of Mount Pinatubo, Philippines. University of Washington Press, Seattle.

  19. Hort M, Seyfried R (1998) Volcanic eruption velocities measured with a micro radar. Geophys Res Lett 154:515–532

  20. Hort M, Seyfried R, Vöge M (2003) Radar Doppler velocimetry of volcanic eruptions: Theoretical considerations and quantitative documentation of changes in eruptive behaviour at Stromboli volcano, Italy. Geophys J Int 25 1:113–116

  21. Houghton BF, Wilson CJN, Del Carlo P, Coltelli M, Sable JE, Carey R (2004) The influence of conduit processes on changes in style of basaltic Plinian eruptions: Tarawera 1986 and Etna 122 BC. J Volcanol Geotherm Res 137:1–14

  22. Johnson MC, Anderson AT, Rutherford MJ (1994) Pre-eruptive volatile contents in magmas. In: Carroll MR, Holloway JR (eds) Volatiles in magmas. Mineral Soc of Am Washington D.C, pp 281–330

  23. Johnson JB, Lees JM, Gordeev EI (1998) Degassing explosions at Karymsky Volcano, Kamchatka. Geophys Res Lett, 25:3999–4002

  24. Johnson JB, Lees JM (2000) Plugs and chugs: seismic and acoustic observations of degassing explosions at Karymsky, Russia and Sangay, Ecuador. J Volcanol Geotherm Res 101:67–82

  25. Kanamori H, Mori J (1992) Harmonic excitation of mantle Rayleigh waves by the 1991 eruption of mount Pinatubo, Philippines. Geophys Res Lett 19:721–724

  26. Kaminski E, Jaupart C (2001) Marginal stability of atmospheric eruption columns and pyroclastic flow generation. J Geophys Res 106, B10:21,785–21,798

  27. Kibblewhite AC, Wu CY (1996) Wave interactions as a seismoacoustic source. Lecture Notes in Earth Sciences, Springer-Verlag, Berlin

  28. Kinsler LE, Frey AR, Coppens AB, Sanders JV (1982) Fundamentals of acoustics. John Wiley and Sons, New York

  29. Klein FW, Koyanagi RY, Nakata JS, Tanigawa WR (1987) The seismicity of Kilauea's magma system. US Geol Surv Prof Paper 1350:1019–1186

  30. Laigle M., Hirn A (1999) Explosion-seismic tomography of a magmatic body beneath Etna: volatile discharge and tectonic control of volcanism. Geophys Res Lett 26: 17:2665–2668

  31. Laigle M, Hirn A, Sapin M, Lepine J-C (2000) Mount Etna dense array local earthquake P and S tomography and implications for volcanic plumbing. J Geophys Res 105: 21633–21646

  32. Landau LD, Lifshitz EM (1987) Course in theoretical Physics, 6 : fluids mechanics. Pergamon Press, Oxford

  33. Leighton TG (1994) The acoustic bubble. Academic Press, London

  34. LePichon A, Blanc E, Drob D, Lambotte S, Dessa JX, Lardy M, Bani P, Vergniolle S (2005) Continuous infrasound monitoring of volcanoes to probe high-altitude winds, J Geophys Res 110: D13106, DOI: 1029/2004JD005587

  35. Lighthill J (1978) Waves in fluids. Cambridge University Press Cambridge

  36. McGetchin TR, Settle M, Chouet B (1974) Cinder cone growth modeled after northeast crater, Mount Etna, Sicily. J Geophys Res 79: 23:3257–3272

  37. Mader HM, Phillips JC, Sparks RSJ, Sturtevant B (1996) Dynamics of explosive degassing of magma: observations of fragmenting two-phase flows. J Geophys Res 101: 5547–5560

  38. Mader HM (1998) Conduit flow and fragmentation. In: Gilbert JS, Sparks RSJ (eds) The physics of explosive volcanic eruptions. Geo Soc London Spec Pub 145:51–71

  39. Massol H, Jaupart C (1999) The generation of gas overpressure in volcanic eruptions. Earth Planet Sci Lett 166:57–70

  40. Morrissey MM, Chouet B (1997a) A numerical investigation of choked flow dynamics and its application to the triggeringmechanism of long-period events at Redoubt Volcano, Alaska. JGeophys Res 102:7965–7983

  41. Morrissey MM, Chouet B (1997b) Burst conditions of explosive volcanic eruptions recorded on microbarographs. Science 275:1290–1293

  42. Nye CJ, Keith T, Eichelberger JC, Miller TP, McNutt SR, Moran SC, Schneider DJ, Dehn J, Schaefer JR (2002) The 1999 eruption of Shishaldin volcano, Alaska: monitoring a distant eruption. Bull Volcanol, 64:507–519

  43. Phillips JC, Lane SJ, Lejeune AM, Hilton M (1995) Gum rosin-acetone system as an analogue to the degassing behaviour of hydrated magmas. Bull Volcanol 57:263–268

  44. Ripepe M, Rossi M, Saccarotti G (1993) Image processing of explosive activity at Stromboli. J Volcanol Geotherm Res 54:335–351

  45. Ripepe M, Gordeev E (1999) Gas bubble dynamics model for shallow volcanic tremor at Stromboli. J Geophys Res 104:10,639–10,654

  46. Robertson R, Cole P, Sparks RSJ, Harford C, Lejeune AM, McGuire WJ, Miller AD, Murphy MD, Norton G, Stevens NF, Young SR (1998) The explosive eruption of Soufriere Hills Volcano, Montserrat, West Indies, 17 September, 1996. Geophys Res Lett 25: 18:3429–3432

  47. Ryan MP (1988) The mechanics and three-dimensional internal structure of active magma systems: Kilauea volcano, Hawaii. J Geophys Res 93:4213–4248

  48. Schmincke H-U (2004) Volcanism. Springer-Verlag, Berlin Germany, pp 1–324

  49. Sisson TW, Grove TL (1993) Temperatures and H2O contents of low-MgO high-aluminia basalts. Contrib Mineral Petrol 113:167–184

  50. Sparks RSJ, Bursik MI, Carey SN, Gilbert JS, Glaze LS, Sigurdsson H, Woods, John AW (1997) Volcanic plumes. John Wiley and Sons, Chichester.

  51. Stelling P, Beget J, Nye C, Gardner J, Devine JD, George RMM (2002) Geology and petrology of ejecta from the 1999 eruption of Shishaldin Volcano, Alaska. Bull Volcanol 64:548–561

  52. Temkin S (1981) Elements of acoustics. John Wiley and Sons, Chichester

  53. Thompson G, McNutt SR, Tytgat G (2002) Three distinct regimes of volcanic tremor associated with the eruption of Shishaldin volcano, Alaska, April 1999. Bull Volcanol 64:535–547

  54. Turner JS (1973) Buoyancy effects in fluids. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

  55. Vergniolle S, Brandeis G (1994) Origin of the sound generated by Strombolian explosions. Geophys Res Lett 21:1959–1962

  56. Vergniolle S, Brandeis G (1996) Strombolian explosions: A large bubble breaking at the surface of a lava column as a source of sound. J Geophys Res 101:20,433–20,448

  57. Vergniolle S, Brandeis G, Mareschal J-C (1996) Strombolian explosions: Eruption dynamics determined from acoustic measurements. J Geophys Res 101:20,449–20,466

  58. Vergniolle S (1998) Modelling two-phase flow in a volcano. Proc 13th Australasian Fluid Mech Conf Aristoc Offset, Monash University, Melbourne, p647–650

  59. Vergniolle S (2001) Listening to Stromboli volcano as a tool into its volcanic conduit. Eos Trans Am Geophys Union 82, 47:F1399

  60. Vergniolle S, Boichu M, Caplan-Auerbach J (2004) Acoustic measurements of the 1999 basaltic eruption of Shishaldinvolcano, Alaska: 1) Origin of Strombolian activity. J Volcanol Geotherm Res 137:109–134

  61. Vergniolle S, Caplan-Auerbach J (2004) Acoustic measurements of the 1999 basaltic eruption of Shishaldin volcano, Alaska: 2) Precursor to the Subplinian activity. J Volcanol Geotherm Res 137:135–151

  62. Vergniolle S, Caplan-Auerbach J (2005) Foam disruption as the origin of the Subplinian, basaltic plume at Shishaldin volcano (Alaska). J Geophys Res subm.1

  63. Vergniolle S, Caplan-Auerbach J (2005) Insights into magma chamber behaviour at Shishaldin volcano from the chronology of the 1999 eruption J Geophys Res subm.2

  64. Walker GPL, Self S, Wilson L (1984) Tarawera 1886, New Zealand–a basaltic Plinian fissure eruption. J Volcanol Geotherm Res 21:61–78

  65. Wallace P, Anderson AT (2000) Volatiles in magma. Encyclopedia of Volcanoes, Academic Press, San Diego

  66. Wallace P (2005) Volatiles in subduction zone magmas: concentrations and fluxes based on melt inclusion and volcanic gas data. J Volcanol Geotherm Res 140:217–240

  67. Wallis GB (1969) One dimensional two-phase flows. Mc Graw Hill, New York

  68. Weill A, Brandeis G, Vergniolle S, Baudin F, Bilbille J, Fevre J-F, Piron B, Hill X (1992) Acoustic sounder measurements of the vertical velocity of volcanic jets at Stromboli volcano. Geophys Res Lett 19:2357–2360

  69. Williams SN (1983) Plinian airfall deposits of basaltic composition. Geology 11:211–214

  70. Woulff G, McGetchin TR (1976) Acoustic noise from volcanoes: Theory and experiments. Geophys J R Astron Soc 45:601–616

  71. Zhang Y, Sturtevant B, Stolper EM (1997) Dynamics of gas-driven eruptions: experimental simulations using CO2-H2O-polymer system. J Geophys Res 102:3077–3096

Download references


We warmly thank Milton Garcés for taking the initiative to install a pressure sensor at Shishaldin. We also thank Matthias Hort and the two anonymous reviewers. This work was supported by CNRS-INSU (ACI and PNRN: Contribution number 369) and by the French Ministère de l'Ecologie et Développement Durable (Numbers: 265 and 281). This is IPGP contribution number 2915.

Author information

Correspondence to Sylvie Vergniolle.

Additional information

Editorial responsibility: J. Stix

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Vergniolle, S., Caplan-Auerbach, J. Basaltic thermals and Subplinian plumes: Constraints from acoustic measurements at Shishaldin volcano, Alaska. Bull Volcanol 68, 611–630 (2006). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00445-005-0035-4

Download citation


  • Eruption dynamics
  • Basaltic plume
  • Basaltic thermal
  • Acoustic measurements
  • Shishaldin volcano
  • Alaska
  • Subduction zone