Laboratory investigation of the frictional behavior of granular volcanic material

Jon Samuelson, Chris Marone, Barry Voight, Derek Elsworth

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


We report on detailed laboratory experiments designed to illustrate the frictional behavior of granular volcanic debris. The materials include pyroclastic flow debris from Soufrière Hills Volcano, Montserrat, and from Stromboli Volcano, Italy, and lahar deposits from Mount St. Helens. Experiments were conducted in a servo-controlled, double-direct shear apparatus under conditions of displacement-control and with monitored temperature and humidity. The effects of loading velocity, normal stress, grain-size range, and saturation state were examined for normal stresses from 0.75 to 8 MPa. The Soufrière Hills debris was sampled in the field using a 2 mm sieve. Samples from Stromboli and MSH represent the original bulk material. The influence of grain-size and size distribution were examined in detail for the Soufrière Hills material for 1) two narrow size ranges (3-4 φ{symbol}, 0.063-0.125 mm; and 0-1 φ{symbol}, 0.5-1 mm), 2) a wide size range (3-0 φ{symbol}, 0.125-1 mm), and 3) the natural size distribution in the range 0-1 mm. These four data sets show remarkably uniform properties: coefficients of residual internal friction varied from 0.62 to 0.64 and coefficients of peak internal friction varied from 0.66 to 0.69, with zero cohesion in each case. For the natural grain-size distribution, we find a small but clear increase in residual sliding friction with increasing slip velocity in the range 10 to 900 μm/s, i.e. velocity strengthening frictional behavior. For Soufrière Hills pyroclastic material the coefficient of internal friction changes very little when water saturated. The frictional characteristics were remarkably similar for the three volcanoes. For the natural grain-size distributions, the coefficient of residual internal friction ranged from 0.61 to 0.63 and peak internal friction values ranged from 0.65 to 0.66. Pre-loaded and over-compacted materials sheared at reduced normal stress gave peak coefficients as high as 0.80. Our results imply that granular volcanic debris should often fail via stable creep, but may exhibit stick-slip instability under some conditions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)265-279
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - Jun 10 2008

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geophysics
  • Geochemistry and Petrology


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