Mobility and emplacement of an ancient, large-volume pyroclastic flow, Ongatiti Ignimbrite, North Island, New Zealand

Pyroclastic flows are the most devastating phenomena of explosive volcanic eruptions. These hazardous fast-moving, hot, concentrated density currents are able to travel several tens of kilometers radially away from their source. Due to an enveloping ash cloud, it is still impossible to directly study pyroclastic flows. However, their deposits (i.e., ignimbrites) provide useful insight into their internal processes of emplacement. This study focuses on the Ongatiti Ignimbrite, which is sourced from Mangakino caldera (i.e., the oldest volcanic centre in the Taupo Volcanic Zone, North Island, New Zealand dated at 1600–950 ka) and offers a unique opportunity to understand the emplacement processes of an ancient and large-volume pyroclastic flow. It is a welded to nonwelded, columnar-jointed, cliff-forming deposit, that has been divided into nine facies based on the variation in pumice and lithic clast abundance, and degree of welding. Our results constrain the minimum deposit volume for the Ongatiti Ignimbrite to ca. 1400 km3, or 1000 km3 dense-rock equivalent. Zircon (U–Th)/He data suggest an eruption age of 1.37 ± 0.04 Ma, which is in good agreement with the previous proposed eruption age. The topographic controls on the spatial distribution of the ignimbrite have been determined to understand pyroclastic flow pathways through valleys and over hills. The ignimbrite covered hills up to ~900 m (about 650 m above the caldera height) to around 40 km from the Mangakino volcanic center (MVC) and, the pyroclastic flow travelled to beyond 90 km from the vent. The Ongatiti Ignimbrite was a landscape-modifying event that covered at least the western North Island and as far away as Auckland and Wellington.
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This is an author’s accepted version of an article published in the Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research. © 2023 Elsevier B.V.