2001 flank eruption of the alkali- and volatile-rich primitive basalt responsible for Mount Etna's evolution in last three decades
Since the early seventies enhanced eruptive activity of Mount Etna has been accompanied by selective geochemical changes in erupted lavas, among which a gradual increase of alkalis whose origin is still debated.
Here we provide further insight into the origin of this recent evolution, based on a detailed study of the chemistry and dissolved volatile content of melt inclusions trapped in olivine crystals of unusual plagioclase-poor primitive basalt that was extruded during a highly explosive flank eruption in July-August 2001. Two types of lava were erupted simultaneously along a N-S fracture system. Trachybasalts from the upper vents (2950-2700 m) were simply drained out by fracturing of the central volcanic conduit. They are identical to summit crater lavas and contain Mg-poor olivines (Fo70-72) with evolved and volatile-poor melt inclusions that represent late-stage crystallisation during shallow open conduit degassing. In contrast, plagioclase-poor basalt (80% of total) extruded through the lower vents (2550-2100 m) derived from lateral dyke intrusion of a more primitive and volatile-rich magma across the sedimentary basement. This primitive melt is best preserved in rare Fo82.4-80.5 skeletal olivines present in lapilli deposits from the most powerful activities at the 2550 m vent. Its high dissolved contents of H2O (3.4 wt %), CO2 (0.11 to 0.41 wt %), S (0.32 wt%), Cl (0.16 wt%) and F (0.094 wt%) point to its closed system ascent from ~400 to 250 MPa (~12 to 6.5 km depth b.s.l.).
However, the predominance of euhedral olivine phenocrysts with common reverse zoning (cores Fo76-78 and rims Fo78-80) and decrepited inclusions shows that most of the erupted basalt derived from a slightly more evolved, crystallizing body of the same magma that was invaded by the uprising primitive melt prior to erupting. The few preserved inclusions in these olivines indicate pre-eruptive storage of that magma body at about 5 km depth b.s.l., in coherence with seismic data.
We propose that the 2001 flank eruption resulted from gradual overpressuring of Etna's shallow plumbing system due to the influx of volatile-rich primitive basalt that may have begun several months in advance. We find that this basalt is much richer in alkalis (2.0 wt% K2O) and has higher S/Cl (2.0) but lower Cl/K and Cl/F ratios than all pre-seventies Etnean lavas (1.4 wt% K2O, S/Cl =1.5), as further examplified by melt inclusions in entrained olivine xenocrysts. Combining these new observations with previously published data, we argue that the 2001 basalt represents a new alkali-rich basic end-member feeding Mt. Etna, only few amount of which had previously been extruded during a 1974 peripheral eruption and, more recently, during brief paroxysmal summit events. Over the last three decades this new magma has progressively mixed with and replaced the former K-poorer trachybasalts filling the plumbing system, leading to extrusion of gradually more primitive and alkali-richer lavas. Its geochemical singularities cannot result from shallow crustal contaminations. Instead, they suggest the involvement of an alkali-richer but Cl-poorer arc-type component during recent magma genesis beneath Etna.
a.) Laboratoire Pierre Süe, CNRS-CEA, Saclay, France
b.) Istituto Nazionale di Geofisica e Vulcanologia (INGV), Catania, Italy.
Earth and Planetary Science Letters 2004, 228, 1-17