Pyroclastic flows and surges over water: An example from the 1883 Krakatau eruption

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Pyroclastic deposits from the 1883 eruption of Krakatau are described from areas northeast of the volcano on the islands of Sebesi, Sebuku, and Lagoendi, and the southeast coast of Sumatra. Massive and poorly stratified units formed predominantly from pyroclastic flows and surges that traveled over the sea for distances up to 80 km. Granulometric and lithologic characteristics of the deposits indicate that they represent the complement of proximal subaerial and submarine pyroclastic flow deposits laid down on and close to the Krakatau islands. The distal deposits exhibit a decrease in sorting coefficient, median grain size, and thickness with increasing distance from Krakatau. Crystal fractionation is consistent with the distal facies being derived from the upper part of gravitationally segregated pyroclastic flows in which the relative amount of crystal enrichment and abundance of dense lithic clasts diminished upwards. The deposits are correlated to a major pyroclastic flow phase that occurred on the morning of 27 August at approximately 10 a.m. Energetic flows spread out away from the volcano at speeds in excess of 100 km/h and traveled up to 80 km from source. The flows retained temperatures high enough to burn victims on the SW coast of Sumatra. Historical accounts from ships in the Sunda Straits constrain the area affected by the flows to a minimum of 4 × 103 km2. At the distal edge of this area the flows were relatively dilute and turbulent, yet carried enough material to deposit several tens of centimeters of tephra. The great mobility of the Krakatau flows from the 10 a.m. activity may be the result of enhanced runout over the sea. It is proposed that the generation of steam at the flow/sea-water interface may have led to a reduction in the sedimentation of particles and consequently a delay in the time before the flows ceased lateral motion and became buoyantly convective. The buoyant distal edge of these ash- and steam-laden clouds lifted off into the atmosphere, leading to cooling, condensation, and mud rain.

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Bulletin of Volcanology