Do Phreatomagmatic Eruptions at Ubehebe Crater (Death Valley, California) Relate to a Wetter than Present Hydro-Climate?

Sasnett, Peri; Goehring, Brent M.; Christie-Blick, Nicholas; Schaefer, Joerg M.

Phreatomagmatic eruptions occur when rising magma encounters groundwater and/or surface water, causing a steam explosion and the ejection of country rock and pyroclastic material. The predominance of this type of activity at the Ubehebe volcanic field in northern Death Valley, California, is enigmatic owing to the extremely arid climate of the region. A novel application of 10Be surface exposure dating is presented to determine the timing of phreatomagmatic eruptions at Ubehebe Crater and to test the idea that volcanism may relate to a wetter than present hydro-climate. Twelve of the fifteen ages obtained lie between 0.8 and 2.1 ka, while three samples give older, mid-Holocene ages. The cluster between 0.8 and 2.1 ka is interpreted as encompassing the interval of volcanic activity during which Ubehebe Crater was formed. The remaining older ages are inferred to date eruptions at the older neighboring craters. The main and most recent period of activity encompasses the Medieval Warm Period, an interval of prolonged drought in the American southwest, as well as slightly wetter conditions prior to the Medieval Warm Period. Phreatomagmatic activity under varied hydrologic conditions casts doubt on the idea that eruptive timing relates to a wetter hydro-climate. Instead, the presence of a relatively shallow modern water table suggests that sufficient groundwater was generally available for phreatomagmatic eruptions at the Ubehebe site, in spite of prevailing arid conditions. This and the youth of the most recent activity suggest that the Ubehebe volcanic field may constitute a more significant hazard than generally appreciated.

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Geophysical Research Letters

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