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Authors: Heap, M. J.* 
Mollo, S.* 
Vinciguerra, S.* 
Lavallee, Y.* 
Dingwell, D. B.* 
Baud, P.* 
Iezzi, G.* 
Title: Thermal weakening of the carbonate basement under Mt. Etna volcano (Italy): Implications for volcano instability
Issue Date: 2013
Series/Report no.: /250(2013)
DOI: 10.1016/j.jvolgeores.2012.10.004
Keywords: Decarbonation
Subject Classification04. Solid Earth::04.08. Volcanology::04.08.08. Volcanic risk 
Abstract: The physical integrity of a sub-volcanic basement is crucial in controlling the stability of a volcanic edifice. For many volcanoes, this basement can comprise thick sequences of carbonates that are prone to significant thermally-induced alteration. These debilitating thermal reactions, facilitated by heat from proximal magma storage volumes, promote the weakening of the rock mass and likely therefore encourage edifice instability. Such instability can result in slow, gravitational spreading and episodic to continuous slippage of unstable flanks, and may also facilitate catastrophic flank collapse. Understanding the propensity of a particular sub-volcanic basement to such instability requires a detailed understanding of the influence of high temperatures on the chemical, physical, and mechanical properties of the rocks involved. The juxtaposition of a thick carbonate substratum and magmatic heat sources makes Mt. Etna volcano an ideal candidate for our study. We investigated experimentally the effect of temperature on two carbonate rocks that have been chosen to represent the deep, heterogeneous sedimentary substratum under Mt. Etna volcano. This study has demonstrated that thermal-stressing resulted in a progressive and significant change in the physical properties of the two rocks. Porosity, wet (i.e., water-saturated) dynamic Poisson's ratio and wet Vp/Vs ratio all increased, whilst P- and S-wave velocities, bulk sample density, dynamic and static Young's modulus, dry Vp/Vs ratio, and dry dynamic Poisson's ratio all decreased. At temperatures of 800 °C, the carbonate in these rocks completely dissociated, resulting in a total mass loss of about 45% and the release of about 44 wt.% of CO2. Uniaxial deformation experiments showed that high in-situ temperatures (>500 °C) significantly reduced the strength of the carbonates and altered their deformation behaviour. Above 500 °C the rocks deformed in a ductile manner and the output of acoustic emissions was greatly reduced. We speculate that thermally-induced weakening and the ductile behaviour of the carbonate substratum could be a key factor in explaining the large-scale deformation observed at Mt. Etna volcano. Our findings are consistent with several field observations at Mt. Etna volcano and can quantitatively support the interpretation of (1) the irregularly low seismic velocity zones present within the sub-volcanic sedimentary basement, (2) the anomalously high CO2 degassing observed, (3) the anomalously high Vp/Vs ratios and the rapid migration of fluids, and (4) the increasing instability of volcanic edifices in the lifespan of a magmatic system. We speculate that carbonate sub-volcanic basement may emerge as one of the decisive fundamentals in controlling volcanic stability.
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