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The Physics of Volcanic Eruptions

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact Hamish Gordon.

Volcanic eruptions play an important role in the gradual evolution of the Earth’s surface. Large-scale circulation patterns within the Earth lead to production of melt that rises into large magma chambers which act as the power source for any subsequent eruption. Within these chambers different physical processes occur, including: solidification of melt; melting of containing boundaries; and exsolution of dissolved volatiles as the pressure changes. Each of these phenomena will be described, along with a model of the eruptive dynamics using concepts from nonlinear bifurcation theory. Once in the atmosphere, the subsequent eruptive plume can rise as high as 45km before intruding laterally as a gravity current. Alternatively, a hot, ground-hugging pyroclastic flow can result which destroys all in its path before possibly rising into the atmosphere. The final part of the talk will consider the runout of granular material, as exemplified by rock avalanches and dome collapses from volcanoes. The talk will be illustrated by some simple desktop experiments along with colour slides and movie sequences of real volcanic events and laboratory simulations.

This talk is part of the Cambridge University Physics Society series.

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