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Uncertainty remains on the origin of distal mass deposition maxima observed in many recent tephra fall deposits. In this study the link between ash aggregation and the formation of distal mass deposition maxima is investigated through reanalysis of tephra fallout from the Mount St. Helens 18 May 1980 (MSH80) eruption. In addition, we collate all the data needed to model distal ash sedimentation from the MSH80 eruption cloud. Four particle size subpopulations were present in distal fallout with modes at 2.2 Φ, 4.2 Φ, 5.9 Φ, and 8.3 Φ. Settling rates of the coarsest subpopulation closely matched predicted single-particle terminal fall velocities. Sedimentation of particles <100 >μm was greatly enhanced, predominantly through aggregation of a particle subpopulation with modal diameter 5.9 ± 0.2 Φ (19 ± 3 μm). Mammatus on the MSH80 cloud provided a mechanism to transport very fine ash particles, with predicted atmospheric lifetimes of days to weeks, from the upper troposphere to the surface in a matter of hours. In this mechanism, ash particles initiate ice hydrometeor formation high in the troposphere. Subsequently, the volcanic cloud rapidly subsides as mammatus develop from increased particle loading and cloud base sublimation. Rapid fallout occurs as the cloud passes through the melting level in a process analogous to snowflake aggregation. Aggregates sediment en masse and form the distal mass deposition maxima observed in many recent volcanic ash fall deposits. This work provides a data resource that will facilitate tephra sedimentation modeling and allow model intercomparisons.

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© 2009 American Geophysical Union. Publisher's version of record:

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Journal of Geophysical Research


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