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The Morphological and Optical Properties of Volcanic Glass

The Morphological and Optical Properties of Volcanic Glass

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The morphological and optical properties of volcanic glass: a tool to assessdensity-induced vertical migration of tephra in sediment cores
Mihaela D. Enache* and Brian F. Cumming
Paleoecological Environmental Assessment and Research Lab (PEARL), Queen’s University, Kingston, ON,K7L 3N6, Canada; *Author for correspondence (e-mail: enachem@biology.queensu.ca)
Received 14 March 2005; accepted in revised form 15 September 2005
Key words:
Mazama, Morphology, Optical properties, Sediment cores, Tephra, Vertical migration,Volcanic glass
Volcanic ash layers in sediment cores are valuable geochronological markers in paleolimnological research.The composition of volcanic glass is related to identifiable, chronologically distinctive volcanic eruptions.Consequently, tephra layers provide time horizons allowing regional-scale correlations for lake sediments.Volcanic glass is often present in samples routinely prepared by paleolimnologists such as diatom slides andthin sections. Knowledge of the morphological and optical properties of volcanic glass allows for itsidentification. This is essential for the identification of ash layers that are not macroscopically visible or totrack their vertical migration in soft organic sediments. The purposes of this note are to: (1) describe howthe morphological (i.e., shape, vesicularity) and optical (i.e., refractive index and birefringence) propertiescan be used to identify volcanic glass in preparations from lake sediments; and (2) show how the quanti-fication of volcanic glass from diatom slides is used to quantify the density-induced displacement of a4.5 cm-thick Mazama ash-layer through organic sediments and to approximate its timing of initialdeposition.
Solid fragments resulting from volcanic eruptionsare known as pyroclastic material and the resultingunconsolidated pyroclastic deposit is also knownas tephra (Vincent 2000). The term ash is reservedfor pyroclastic material that is less than 2 mm insize, and includes vitric material along with rockand mineral fragments (Heiken and Wohletz1985). Identification of such glassy fragments fromsedimentary sequences is useful as they can pro-vide chronological information on core stratigra-phy (e.g., Westgate and Gorton 1981; Leonard1995; Turney and Lowe 2001) and have multipleapplications in paleolimnological research (e.g.,Barker et al. 2003; Colman et al. 2004; Davieset al. 2004; Haberyan and Horn 2005). The vitre-ous fragments ejected from volcanic vents aredeposited via the atmosphere over the surroundingregion and often form layers in lake sediments(Vincent 2000). Lacustrine ash layers contain glassshards with a chemical composition that is volcanospecific and also related to a particular eruption(Turney and Lowe 2001). Consequently, tephracan provide time-lines or marker horizons, whichconstitute a precise and confident tool for multiplecore and/or regional-scale correlations of sedi-mentary sequences (Hall and Pilcher 2002).
Journal of Paleolimnology (2006) 35:661–667
Springer 2006DOI 10.1007/s10933-005-3604-9
However, in some circumstances ash layers havebeen reported to vertically migrate in low-densitystratigraphic sequences (Beierle and Bond 2002).Paleolimnologists often prepare sediment sam-ples using strong acids to remove organic andcarbonate material (Wilson et al. 1996), whichleaves silica-rich material such as diatoms, silicateminerals and volcanic glass fragments. This notewill first describe how optical properties can beused to distinguish volcanic glass from silicateminerals by shape, refractive index (i.e., measureof how much the light is bent when entering a newtransparent material, Nesse 2000) and by lack of interference colors (i.e., colors seen between cros-sed polarizers on a petrographic microscope, as aconsequence of the light being split into two rayswhen passing through a mineral, Nesse 2000).Second, we apply this technique to identify vol-canic glass in a
C-dated core from Prosser Lake(49
N; 120
W; British Columbia,Canada). A 4.5 cm-thick tephra layer was identi-fied as the Mazama climactic eruption (Hallettet al. 1997) through electron microprobe analysis.According to our AMS
C dates, the tephra layeris positioned in the sedimentary sequence at amuch older age than previously recorded. We as-sessed changes in the abundance of the glassshards from diatom slides, above the macroscopi-cally visible tephra layer to identify the initialdeposition of this tephra prior to its downwardmigration in the core.
Sample preparation and methods
A 6.25 m core representing the complete sedi-mentary record of Prosser Lake was recoveredfrom a depth of 26 m from Prosser Lake, using a2
Livingstone piston corer, in July 2000. A
4.5 cm-thick tephra layer situated at 472.5 cmdepth in the core was identified by microprobeanalysis by Dr. P. Roeder at Queen’s University,as belonging to the climactic eruption of Mazama(Hallett et al. 1997; Zdanowicz et al. 1999).However,
C AMS dates on pollen at 443 and500.5 cm, supplied an interpolated age of 7440 calyears BC at the top of the macroscopic tephralayer, which is approximately 2000 years olderthan ages previously provided (5470–5620 cal BC,Hallett et al. 1997).Diatom slides were prepared above the mac-roscopically visible tephra layer at 2-cm inter-vals, following procedures described by Wilsonet al. (1996). Three size-categories of glass frag-ments (<50; 50–100; and >100
m) were countedover the whole surface of the coverslip, calcu-lated as number of fragments/g wet sediment,and then plotted against depth in the core.Volcanic glass was enumerated above the tephralayer until the number of glass fragments de-creased to
0 glass shards/g wet sediment. Theintervals were compared for glass shards abun-dances and we considered that a significantchange occurred when the mean of consecutiveintervals was higher than the mean + 2SD of the previous or following intervals. ANOVA and
-test analyses, performed with JMP 5.01 (SASInstitute Inc.), were used to assess the statisticalsignificance of these changes.
Identification of volcanic glass fragments
Glass particles of volcanic ash appear under themicroscope as angular, highly vesicular frag-ments, with size ranging between a few micronsto 2 mm. Vesicles are empty cavities or filled bygas and their shapes can be elongated or stret-ched by the flow before the volcanic melt iscooled to a glass (Figure 1). Along with theircharacteristic morphology (i.e., angular vesicularshape), glass fragments can be distinguishedfrom mineral fragments based on their opticalproperties i.e., the refractive index (Becke linemethod), and observation in cross-polarized light(Nesse 2000).
Volcanic glass morphology
The main morphological features of volcanic glassare the geometrical shape and size of the grains,surface characteristics, vesicle form and density,and the thickness of walls separating vesicles.Volcanic glass morphologies can vary fromspherical or tear-shaped droplets to highly vesic-ular fragments, sometimes with more than 98%vesicles and thin walls. Glass fragments may alsobe blocky or angular, with open-vesicle networksor no vesicles (Heiken and Wohletz 1985;662
Figure 1.
Volcanic glass identified in sediments from Prosser Lake, British Columbia. (a, b)
Electron Microprobe pictures
: volcanicglass identified in Mazama tephra layer (473–473.5 cm interval); (c, d)
Diatom slides
(472–472.5 cm interval): (c) volcanic glass fromMazama; (d) diatom fragment; (e, g)
Epoxy-embedded thin sections
(471.5–472.5 cm interval): (e) pumiceous fragment at sediment – tephra interface; (f, g) glass fragments and feldspar from Mazama tephra; (g) shows crossed nicols image with dark isotropic glassymaterial and mineral fragments showing interference colors; (h–m)
Observations under petrographic microscope
(473–473.5 cm inter-val): (h) mineral fragment with Becke line at grain boundary; (i) Becke line moves inside the grain when lowering the microscope stage;(j) Same mineral fragment showing interference colors under crossed polarizers; (k) glass fragment with crystal inclusions showingBecke line at grain boundaries; (l) Becke line moves towards immersion oil around the glass fragment and inside crystal grains whenlowering the microscope stage; (m) same picture showing the crystals exhibiting interference colors whereas the volcanic glass appearsdark under crossed polarizers. In all pictures, black arrows are pointing volcanic glass and white arrows are pointing minerals.

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