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Primary volcaniclastic rocks

J.D.L. White
Department of Geology, University of Otago, P.O. Box 56, Dunedin, New Zealand

B.F. Houghton
Department of Geology & Geophysics, School of Ocean & Earth Sciences & Technology, 1680 East-West Road,
Honolulu, Hawaii 96822, USA

ABSTRACT
We propose a classification scheme that unifies terminology for all primary volcaniclastic deposits, assigns initial depositional mechanism as the basis for classifying them,
and refines the grain-size classes used to pigeonhole samples. By primary volcaniclastic
deposits and rocks, we mean the entire range of fragmental products deposited directly
by explosive or effusive eruption. This definition thus focuses on the primary transport
and deposition of particles, rather than those processes by which the particles form or the
nature of the fluid in which they are carried. We favor this approach for all primary
volcaniclastic deposits because they typically contain assemblages of clasts formed by different processes and/or at different times that are subsequently brought together during
eruption.
Keywords: pyroclastic, hydroclastic, autoclastic, peperite, volcaniclastic terminology.

INTRODUCTION
Recent work on clastic rocks formed directly by volcanic activity, whether violent explosive eruptions or passive effusion of lava,
has highlighted the range of fragmentation,
transport, and depositional processes that form
primary volcaniclastic deposits (e.g., Houghton and Smith, 1993; White, 2000). Systematically describing such complex mixtures of
disparate particles is never easyR.V. Fisher
was told by his thesis advisor that his volcaniclastic deposits were the ugliest and most
undistinguished rocks I have seen in my thirty
years of petrology (Heiken et al., 2003,
p. 221). This complexity, or ugliness, and
the historically late start to studies of volcaniclastic rocks as a discrete entity have yielded
a variety of classifications (see Orton, 1996).
Each uses many words originally coined in
other contexts that have been pressed into volcaniclastic service, but which continue to carry connotations often dissonant with their
roles in volcaniclastic schemes.
Early classifications addressed only pyroclastic rocks (e.g., Wentworth and Williams,
1932). Fishers pioneering classification established a common nomenclature for all volcaniclastic rocks, which he then divided into autoclastic, pyroclastic, and epiclastic classes
based on the particle-forming processes (Fisher, 1961, 1966). Schmid (1981) broadened the
term pyroclastic to include all types of volcanic particles and a wide range of volcaniclastic deposits, including laharic, hyaloclastites, intrusive breccias, and tuff dikes. Fisher
and Schmincke (1984, p. 8) used pyroclastic
in two senses: as fragments that originate

from volcanic eruptions or as a direct consequence of an eruption and also as limited to


the products of eruptions caused by expansion of gases initially contained within the
magma.
Cas and Wright (1987, p. 360) addressed
pyroclastic and epiclastic rocks, and stated
that pyroclastic and epiclastic deposits were
distinguished based on their modes of fragmentation and final deposition. Their statement that Epiclastic deposits . . . were fragmented by normal surface processes . . . or
were deposited by normal surface processes,
irrespective of the mode of fragmentation, or
both. makes it clear that they favored deposition as the prime criterion. They offered a
detailed classification of primary pyroclastic
rocks and a classification using terms taken
from clastic sedimentology for all other volcaniclastic rocks. In Volcanic Textures,
McPhie et al. (1993, p. 6) use transport and
deposition mechanisms as a basis to classify
volcaniclastic rocks, an approach we follow
here. These authors also made a significant distinction between deposits where primary clasts
are resedimented syneruptively by various processes versus epiclastic deposits where weathering, erosion, and reworking precede final deposition. McPhie et al. (1993, p. 6) described
four classes of deposit autoclastic, pyroclastic,
resedimented syn-eruptive volcaniclastic, and
volcanogenic sedimentary.
The terminology proposed here is granulometrically precise, sensitive to the need to distinguish deposits formed during volcanism
from nonvolcanic sediments, and recognizes
complexity in formation of primary volcani-

clastic deposits. Our attention is on primary


volcaniclastic rocks and deposits. By this we
mean accumulations of particles that were mobilized directly by explosive or effusive volcanism and not stored at any time prior to arrival at the depositional site. We conclude that
the scheme should also be used to describe
deposits of uncertain origin, including many
resedimented syn-eruptive volcaniclastic
ones (McPhie et al., 1993). As with other
schemes, all such uncertainty must be noted
in the field and carried forward consistently.
PRIMARY VOLCANICLASTIC
DEPOSITS
For primary volcaniclastic deposits, two approaches have been used to assign genetic
names. In one, clasts are named according to
their mode of fragmentation (Fisher, 1961,
1966; Schmid, 1981). A pyroclast is defined
as having been formed by explosive volcanic
fragmentation, and a pyroclastic deposit is
then defined as a collection of pyroclasts. In
the second approach, a rock is named based
on the process of deposition that formed it
(McPhie et al., 1993). For example, a pyroclastic deposit could be defined as one formed
by sedimentation of clasts from a volcanic
plume or a pyroclastic density current. In this
system, pyroclasts are simply those particles
found in a pyroclastic deposit.
There is a strong case for favoring the second system when working with primary volcaniclastic deposits. To continue with the pyroclastic example, not all pyroclastic density
currents are initiated by explosive eruptions.
The deposits of block-and-ash flows, for in-

2006 Geological Society of America. For permission to copy, contact Copyright Permissions, GSA, or editing@geosociety.org.
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677

stance, are universally regarded as pyroclastic


rocks but many include clasts formed by gravitational failure of lava domes and coulees.
This usage of pyroclastic is, strictly, inconsistent with the first system. A more serious flaw
in first defining primary clasts and then primary volcaniclastic deposits is that deposits
with mixtures of clasts, which owe their size
and shape to different fragmentation events,
are common. One example is a primary deposit, rich in wall-derived clasts, of a phreatomagmatic eruption. These clasts are commonly derived from weakly lithified or
unconsolidated near-surface rocks or sediments, with their size and shape reflecting the
pre-existing particle population of the source
(clast shapes and sizes) rather than eruptive
fragmentation. Because such clasts are merely
entrained, not formed, by the eruption, they
would not be true pyroclasts in the first
system.
For these reasons, our classification of primary volcaniclastic deposits follows the second approach, recognizing that the only
unique event shared by all clasts within any
single deposit is the process of deposition,
which thus provides the least equivocal starting point for a classification scheme of primary deposits.
EXISTING APPROACHES
Two sets of names for primary volcaniclastic deposits have evolved, both based on grain
size. One uses terms initially reserved for only
pyroclastic rocks, the other analogous terms
from clastic sedimentology. Names such as
ash, and lapilli tuff, are core terms of the first
scheme, and immediately connote volcanic activity (Wentworth and Williams, 1932; Fisher,
1961; Schmid, 1981; Fisher and Schmincke,
1984). The second schemes terms include ash
and tuff for pyroclastic deposits (Cas and
Wright, 1987), and granular-hyaloclastite,
granular-autobreccia, or hyaloclastic or autoclastic sandstone for autoclastic deposits
(McPhie et al., 1993). No primary deposits of
explosive subaqueous eruptions are recognized, so terms such as vitric silt, or basaltic
gravelly sandstone are applied.
It has been argued by some authors that the
terms used in the first scheme are unavoidably
genetic, that describing a deposit using terms
like tuff or lapilli tuff of necessity denotes a
primary pyroclastic deposit (Cas and Wright,
1987; McPhie et al., 1993). This criticism is
based on the connotation of the terms as perceived by those authors, but the Fisher-derived
scheme is explicitly based on fragment origin,
not deposit genesis; Fishers tuff is not restricted to primary deposits. Our view is that
genetic connotations also attach to terms derived from sedimentary geology, such as
mudstone, sandstone, and conglomer678

TABLE 1. GRAIN-SIZE TERMS FOR PRIMARY VOLCANICLASTIC ROCKS


Grain size

Primary volcaniclastic deposit

Sedimentary deposit (rock name)

(phi)

(mm)

Unconsolidated

Lithified

Unconsolidated

Lithified

4
34
23
12
01
1 to
2 to
4 to
6 to
6

1/16
1/161/8
1/81/4
1/41/2
1/21
12
24
416
1664
64

Extremely fine ash


Very fine ash
Fine ash
Medium ash
Coarse ash
Very coarse ash
Fine lapilli
Medium lapilli
Coarse lapilli
Block/bomb

Extremely fine tuff


Very fine tuff
Fine tuff
Medium tuff
Coarse tuff
Very coarse tuff
Fine lapilli-tuff
Medium lapilli-tuff
Coarse lapilli-tuff
Breccia

Clay
Very fine sand
Fine sand
Medium sand
Coarse sand
Coarse sand
Granule
Pebble
Cobble
Boulder

Mudrock, shale
Very fine sandstone
Fine sandstone
Medium sandstone
Coarse sandstone
Coarse sandstone
Grit, granule congl.
Pebble conglomerate
Cobble conglomerate
Boulder congl.

0
1
2
4

Note: The ash and lapilli grain-size ranges have been modified from that given by Fisher (1961) and derivative
classifications to match and include the subdivisions within the sand and gravel ranges given by Wentworth
(1922). Extremely fine ash replaced fine ash for particles finer than 4 phi (1/16 mm). Lithified sedimentary
deposits with angular grains coarser than 2 mm are commonly termed breccia.

ate. To many volcanologists, and perhaps


even more so to other geologists, the term
sandy gravel carries an implication of sedimentary origin equally as strong as the primary volcanic implication of tuff. A truly
nongenetic scheme would either employ only
newly coined words free of existing geological connotation, or limit all field and text description to raw narrative (e.g., a deposit of
clast type a and a median grain size of x
mm/phi); neither alternative is attractive.
A NEW CLASSIFICATION SCHEME
We propose a revised terminology for primary clastic deposits of volcanic eruptions
that marries terminology developed by Fisher
with a deposit-origin focus (e.g., Cas and
Wright, 1987) and uses a consistent approach
to the products of different eruption styles and
to subaerial and subaqueous eruptions. It parallels Wentworths (1922) scale for grain size
(Table 1), using volcaniclastic terms and subdivisions from Fisher (1961). The emphasis is
on depositional assemblages.
Because this classification draws in part on
those of Cas and Wright (1987) and McPhie
et al. (1993), we note significant differences
from their classifications:
1. All primary volcaniclastic rocks, not
only pyroclastic and autoclastic rocks, receive
primary volcaniclastic names, and the basic
names are the same for all categories.
2. All deposits that do not involve interim
storage of particles are primary deposits, regardless of whether transport occurs through
air, water, granular debris, or some combination thereof.
3. No deposits directly related to (i.e., with
fragments formed in or transported by) eruptions are considered epiclastic. Epiclastic
deposits of volcanic heritage are, following
Fisher (1961), deposits formed following
weathering of volcanic (including volcaniclastic) rocks to produce new particles different in
size and shape from those formed and distributed by an eruption. (This contrasts with usage
by Cas and Wright [1987], but not with
McPhie et al. [1993].)

Important changes with respect to the Fisher and International Union of Geological Sciences (IUGS) use of terms are:
1. Volcaniclastic is demoted from the
general term for all deposits containing volcanic debris (including weathering products of
old volcanic rock) to replace the broadest use
of pyroclastic as the core term for the family of particles and deposits formed by volcanic eruptions.
2. Following from item 1, sedimentary
rocks consisting of volcanic material that is
made up of grains produced by weathering of
lavas or lithified pyroclastic rocks are no longer considered distinctly volcaniclastic. Instead, they are considered ordinary sedimentary rocks with a volcanic heritage, and
receive sedimentary names with or without a
volcanic modifier (e.g., basaltic sandstone).
3. All primary volcaniclastic rocks are described using terms such as ash, lapilli,
blocks, bombs, tuff, tuff breccia, and so on,
based on grain size.
4. The ashtuff range of grain size is subdivided into very fine, fine, medium ash, etc.,
to better match the long-established sedimentary scheme of Wentworth (1922), and the lapilli range is similarly subdivided into fine,
medium, and coarse subdivisions parallel to
those for pebbles.
The proposed scheme is given in Table 1.
Extremely fine ash is a new category for
ash in the clay-silt range (cf. mud-grade
ash, Mueller and White, 2004). Figure 1
specifies the proportions of different-sized
clasts for each rock type. For unconsolidated
deposits, we favor names incorporating core
terms (ash, lapilli, or block/bomb deposit),
prefixed to indicate subordinate particle size
(e.g., lapilli-ash deposit).
MAJOR DESCRIPTIVE MODIFIERS
Componentry
The componentry of a primary volcaniclastic rock is often the most useful of a suite of
lithofacies descriptors for differentiating one
deposit from another or elucidating subtle,
process-driven changes vertically or laterally
GEOLOGY, August 2006

TABLE 2. COMPONENT CLASSES FOR VOLCANICLASTIC DEPOSITS


Component
Juvenile

Lithic

Composite

Figure 1. Grain-size ternary diagram for


naming primary volcaniclastic rocks after
Fisher (1961). Triangle apices: B&Bblocks
and bombs; Llapilli; Aash. Fields: B
breccia; TBtuff breccia; LTlapilli tuff
(follows Schmid [1981] in abandoning lapillistone); Ttuff. Blocks are angular large
pyroclasts, and bombs are their fluidal
equivalent. Divisions are at 75% blocks and
bombs, 25% blocks and bombs, and 25%
ash versus lapilli. Unconsolidated depositsminor-major constituent, e.g., lapilli-ash
deposit.

within deposits (Table 2). We divide components into three broad groups: (1) juvenile
clasts derived from the newly erupted magma;
(2) country-rock lithic clasts, which are fragments derived from rock or sediment that predates the eruption from which they are
deposited; they are mere passengers during
transport and deposition; and (3) composite
clasts, which are mechanical mixtures of juvenile and lithic (and/or recycled juvenile)
clasts. Deposits may contain both primary juvenile clasts, which provided heat to the transport and fragmentation events that ultimately
end in deposition of clasts, and recycled juvenile clasts, which have been re-entrained by
an event later in the same eruption that formed
them (Houghton and Smith, 1993). Primary
juvenile clast is not a redundant phrase, but
a recognition of eruption complexity. In terms
of eruption dynamics and thermodynamics,
cold recycled juvenile clasts behave exactly as
do country-rock lithic clasts from vent walls,
or rip-up clasts incorporated along the flow
path of a pyroclastic density current. The reasons we do not include recycled juvenile fragments in the lithic category are practical: (1)
it is always difficult, and commonly impossible, to distinguish primary from recycled juvenile clasts, and (2) limiting juvenile clasts
to the primary ones in the sense given above
would be inconsistent with existing componentry data. On the other hand, in those young
deposits where distinction is possible, it is
fundamental to interpretation of eruption
dynamics.
Composite clasts occur both as blebs of solidified magma closely mingled with clastic,
including recycled pyroclastic, debris (fragGEOLOGY, August 2006

Key criteria

Components within deposits (example)

Primary juvenile: derived directly from erupting Dense to inflated fragments of chilled magma
magma; particle contributes heat to thermal
(pumice, scoria, dense juvenile); may be
budget of transport and/or fragmentation
recycled. Aggregate of relatively finer-grained
processes. Recycled juvenile: juvenile clast
clasts (accretionary lapilli, armored lapilli ).
recycled during the eruption that formed it;
Crystals derived directly from the erupting
not a significant thermal contributor to
magma (e.g., juvenile feldspar ); may be
depositing plume or current.
recycled.
Clast formed by fragmentation of pre-existing
Fragments derived from wall rock (e.g.,
rock or incorporated from unconsolidated
sandstone lithic). Fragments of solidified
sediment. These contribute negligible heat
magma from conduit walls, blocks of lava or
energy to transport, depositional, or
dike rock (e.g., basalt lithic). Block of
fragmentation processes.
pyroclastic rock (e.g., tuff block).
Clast formed by mingling of magma with a
Fragments of peperite (composite clasts).
clastic host, or incorporation of lithic debris
Bomb with lithic core (cored bomb).
into magma.

Note: Though juvenile is subdivided to distinguish primary from recycled clasts, it is recognized that this
significant behavioral distinction can only rarely be made from ancient deposits. Composite clasts are unique in
combining lithic and juvenile material.

ments of peperite) and as cored bombs, which


contain a lithic or recycled juvenile fragment
enclosed in magma and ejected as a bomb.
Sorting
Deposit names are based on granulometry
(Table 1; Fig. 1), but may be further modified
to indicate sorting, e.g., well-sorted tuff. Inman (1952) or Folk and Ward (1957) parameters define sorting, with terms for sorting values following Folk (1974). Very well-sorted
primary volcaniclastic deposits are uncommon, in part reflecting variations in clast density arising both because particles of different
origins are present in many deposits, and because primary juvenile clasts vary significantly in vesicularity (e.g., Houghton and Wilson,
1989).
Clast Morphology
Additional modifiers may be used to describe angularity of clasts (Fisher and
Schmincke, 1984). Rounded is best reserved for description of clasts inferred to
have been abraded. Alternative descriptions
for clasts that have nonangular forms but are
not abraded, which typically result from aerodynamic or surface-tension reshaping of bodies of fluid melt, would be fluidal or
amoeboid.
TYPES OF PRIMARY
VOLCANICLASTIC DEPOSITS
This classification unifies core terms for all
primary volcaniclastic deposits. We recognize
four end-member groups of primary volcani-

clastic deposits, each formed directly from


volcanic eruptions (Table 3).
1. A pyroclastic deposit forms from volcanic plumes and jets or pyroclastic density
currents, as particles first come to rest. Deposition occurs by suspension settling, from
traction, by en masse freezing, or any combination of these.
2. An autoclastic deposit forms during effusive volcanism when the exterior of a dome
or lava flow cools and fragments in contact
with air, and the fragments are deposited under
the influence of continued dome or lava
flowage.
3. Hyaloclastite (including pillow breccia)
forms during effusive volcanism when extruding magma or flowing lava is chilled and fragmented from contact with water, and fragments are deposited under the influence of the
continued emplacement of lava.
4. Peperite forms during effusion and shallow intrusion of magma through unconsolidated clastic material by fragmentation of
magma or lava as it mingles with (generally
wet) debris; deposition is effectively in situ
(e.g., White et al., 2000).
Pyroclastic rocks make up the vast bulk of
primary volcaniclastic deposits subaerially,
and also many shallow to moderately deepwater subaqueous deposits (e.g., papers in
White et al., 2003). Pyroclasts are clasts deposited from subaerial, subaqueous, or subsurface jets, plumes, or currents. For example,
all deposits formed from a single Surtseyan
jet, which is initiated deep within a vent, passes through lake or seawater above the vent,

TABLE 3. VARIETIES OF PRIMARY VOLCANICLASTIC ROCKS


Process
Sedimentation from pyroclastic plumes and currents
Deposition of fragments from lava, formed via air cooling
Deposition of fragments from lava, formed via water chilling
Mingling of magma with wet sediment, in situ deposition

Deposit adjective (noun)


Pyroclastic (various)
Autoclastic (autobreccia)
Hyaloclastic (hyaloclastite)
Peperitic (peperite)

Note: All should be given grain-size names based on grain size and degree of lithification (Table 1).

679

and then emerges above the surface to form a


subaerial cocks-tail jet, are pyroclastic, regardless of where along the transport path the
particles separated from the jet. Deposits of
eruption-fed density currents formed directly
from fully subaqueous tephra jets during subaqueous phases of the same Surtseyan eruption are similarly pyroclastic, and their clasts
are also pyroclasts. Participation in transport
that requires magmatic energy is the key
shared attribute of particles in all pyroclastic
deposits.
Autoclastic deposits form in direct or nearly
direct contact with the unfragmented lava
from which their clasts are derived. Transport,
typically minor, takes place during and as a
result of the flow of their parent lava. Jostling
and grinding during this imposed movement
can significantly abrade fragments (Smith et
al., 1999).
Hyaloclastites, as delineated here, are primary volcaniclastic deposits formed during
magma entry into lakes, glaciers, and oceans,
with limited or no transport of fragments
forming in direct or indirect thermal response
to magma chilling by water. This is a conventional usage of hyaloclastite (see Batiza and
White, 2000), but contrasts with the very
broad application of the term to any product
of magma-water interaction (e.g., Fisher and
Schmincke, 1984).
Peperite is a typically intrusive rock, the defining characteristic of which is gradation
from intrusive magma (including overriding
or invasive lava) into a host clastic deposit
through a zone in which the two are mingled
at one or more scales (e.g., White et al., 2000).
The processes and sites of mingling vary
greatly among peperites (Skilling et al., 2002).
DISCUSSION
This terminology is a unifying system for
all primary clastic deposits of volcanic eruptions. Our approach allows internally consistent description of some deposits that are
problematic to describe using existing
schemes. For example, aerodynamic or hydrodynamic fragments of glass, such as Peles
hair, achneliths (Walker and Croasdale, 1972),
or clasts within some intravent deposits, result
from fluid reshaping as one fluid (magma) is
propelled through another (typically, but not
necessarily, air). Such fragments may result
from both phreatomagmatic or magmatic accelerations and both subaerial and subaqueous
explosions, but are not specifically diagnostic
of any one of these. Examination of primary
volcaniclastic rocks from the deeper levels of
vents has highlighted the common occurrence
of deposits with clasts that formed as a consequence of shear during injection of liquid
magma into wet, poorly consolidated volcaniclastic debris (e.g., McClintock and White,
680

2006). Under the classification given here,


such deposits, for which there is currently no
consistently applicable name, are primary volcaniclastic rocks and would be named accordingly as tuff, lapilli tuff, or tuff breccia.
With its systematic descriptive content, this
classification is as well suited as sedimentary
nomenclature for description of ambiguous
deposits, such as syneruptive resedimented
volcaniclastic deposits.
CONCLUSION
This classification names primary volcaniclastic deposits in a way sympathetic to classic nomenclature while allowing concise and
unambiguous description of rocks compatible
with our increasingly sophisticated understanding of eruption processes. It formalizes
some common practices, such as applying the
names tuff breccia, etc., to lithic-rich deposits
of phreatomagmatic eruptions and domecollapse block-and-ash flows, and it subdivides the ash-size range. For near-vent volcanic settings, it has the potential to mitigate
some of the confusion resulting from inconsistent application of present terminologies.
We also prefer it for use with those volcaniclastic rocks of uncertain origin.
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
We acknowledge support from National Science
Foundation (NSF) grants EAR-0106700, EAR0106237, EAR-0125719, and Antarctica New Zealand, University of Otago, and the New Zealand
Foundation for Research, Science, and Technology.
M. McClintock contributed to early manuscript development; comments by P.-S. Ross, G.A. Smith, J.
McPhie, I. Skilling, and D. Swanson helped clarify
our presentation.
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Manuscript accepted 28 March 2006
Printed in USA

GEOLOGY, August 2006