3D imaging of volcano gravitational deformation by computerized X-ray micro-tomography

M. Kervyn*, M. N. Boone, B. van Wyk de Vries, E. Lebas, V. Cnudde, K. Fontijn, P. Jacobs

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Analogue models are commonly used to gain insights into large-scale volcano-tectonic processes. Documenting model surface topography and the three-dimensional (3D) aspect of deformation structures remains the greatest challenge in understanding the simulated processes. Here we present the results of volcano analogue models imaged with an X-ray computerized micro-tomography (μCT) system developed at the Ghent University Centre for Tomography (UGCT). Experiments simulate volcano deformation due to gravitational loading over a ductile layer, a process affecting many natural volcanoes built over a sedimentary substratum. Results show that μCT is able to provide a 3D reconstruction of the model topography with unprecedented resolution. Virtual cross sections through reconstructed models enable us to map the main structures at depth and to document the deformation of the brittle-ductile interface due to contrasting X-ray attenuation. Results for lateral spreading and vertical sagging into thin and thick ductile layers, respectively, are illustrated for circular cones and elongated ridges. Results highlight structural patterns not seen in previous models, such as: 1) the 3D form of a polygonal brecciated zone at the center of spreading cones; 2) the complete lack of such a zone in sagging cones; and 3) relay structures between graben-bounding faults in spreading cones. In addition, detailed imaging of tension gashes and of the flexure surface below sagging cones enables the 3D strain distribution to be explored. Experiments with non-cohesive and low cohesion granular materials present striking differences in surface topography and fault characteristics. Despite limitations associated with the scan duration, μCT reconstruction of analogue models appears a powerful tool for better understanding the complex 3D deformation associated with volcano-tectonic processes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)482-498
Number of pages17
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2010


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