Construction of volcanic records from marine sediment cores: A review and case study (Montserrat, West Indies)

TitleConstruction of volcanic records from marine sediment cores: A review and case study (Montserrat, West Indies)
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2014
AuthorsCassidy, M, Watt, SFL, Palmer, MR, Trofimovs, J, Symons, W, MacLachlan, SE, Stinton, AJ
JournalEarth-Science Reviews
KeywordsCryptotephras, Eruption history, Reworked volcaniclastic, Tephra fallout, Tephrochronology, Tephrostratigraphy

Detailed knowledge of the past history of an active volcano is crucial for the prediction of the timing, frequency and style of future eruptions, and for the identification of potentially at-risk areas. Subaerial volcanic stratigraphies are often incomplete, due to a lack of exposure, or burial and erosion from subsequent eruptions. However, many volcanic eruptions produce widely-dispersed explosive products that are frequently deposited as tephra layers in the sea. Cores of marine sediment therefore have the potential to provide more complete volcanic stratigraphies, at least for explosive eruptions. Nevertheless, problems such as bioturbation and dispersal by currents affect the preservation and subsequent detection of marine tephra deposits. Consequently, cryptotephras, in which tephra grains are not sufficiently concentrated to form layers that are visible to the naked eye, may be the only record of many explosive eruptions. Additionally, thin, reworked deposits of volcanic clasts transported by floods and landslides, or during pyroclastic density currents may be incorrectly interpreted as tephra fallout layers, leading to the construction of inaccurate records of volcanism. This work uses samples from the volcanic island of Montserrat as a case study to test different techniques for generating volcanic eruption records from marine sediment cores, with a particular relevance to cores sampled in relatively proximal settings (i.e. tens of kilometres from the volcanic source) where volcaniclastic material may form a pervasive component of the sedimentary sequence. Visible volcaniclastic deposits identified by sedimentological logging were used to test the effectiveness of potential alternative volcaniclastic-deposit detection techniques, including point counting of grain types (component analysis), glass or mineral chemistry, colour spectrophotometry, grain size measurements, XRF core scanning, magnetic susceptibility and X-radiography. This study demonstrates that a set of time-efficient, non-destructive and high-spatial-resolution analyses (e.g. XRF core-scanning and magnetic susceptibility) can be used effectively to detect potential cryptotephra horizons in marine sediment cores. Once these horizons have been sampled, microscope image analysis of volcaniclastic grains can be used successfully to discriminate between tephra fallout deposits and other volcaniclastic deposits, by using specific criteria related to clast morphology and sorting. Standard practice should be employed when analysing marine sediment cores to accurately identify both visible tephra and cryptotephra deposits, and to distinguish fallout deposits from other volcaniclastic deposits.