Spatial analysis of Mount St. Helens tephra leachate compositions: implications for future sampling strategies

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© 2015, The Author(s). Tephra particles in physically and chemically evolving volcanic plumes and clouds carry soluble sulphate and halide salts to the Earth’s surface, ultimately depositing volcanogenic compounds into terrestrial or aquatic environments. Upon leaching of tephra in water, these salts dissolve rapidly. Previous studies have investigated the spatial and temporal variability of tephra leachate compositions during an eruption in order to gain insight into the mechanisms of gas-tephra interaction which emplace those salts. However, the leachate datasets analysed are typically small and may poorly represent the natural variability and complexity of tephra deposits. Here, we have conducted a retrospective analysis of published leachate analyses from the 18 May 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens, Washington, analysing the spatial structure of the concentrations and relative abundances of soluble Ca, Cl, Na and S across the deposits. We have identified two spatial features: (1) concentrated tephra leachate compositions in blast deposits to the north of the volcano and (2) low S/Cl and Na/Cl ratios around the Washington-Idaho border. By reference to the bulk chemistry and granulometry of the deposit and to current knowledge of gas-tephra interactions, we suggest that the proximal enrichments are the product of pre-eruptive gas uptake during cryptodome emplacement. We speculate that the low S/Cl and Na/Cl ratios reflect a combination of compositional dependences on high-temperature SO < inf> 2 uptake and preferential HCl uptake by hydrometeor-tephra aggregates, manifested in terrestrial deposits by tephra sedimentation and fallout patterns. However, despite our interrogation of the most exhaustive tephra leachate dataset available, it has become clear in this effort that more detailed insights into gas-tephra interaction mechanisms are prevented by the prevalent poor temporal and spatial representativeness of the collated data and the limited characterisation of the tephra deposits. Future leachate studies should aim to extensively sample across tephra deposit limits whilst simultaneously characterising deposit stratigraphy and tephra chemistry, mineralogy and granulometry, taking steps to ensure the quality and comparability of collected leachate datasets.

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Bulletin of Volcanology