Emissions of sulphur and metals from magmas in Earth's shallow crust can have global impacts on human society. Sulphur-bearing gases emitted into the atmosphere during volcanic eruptions affect climate, and metals and sulphur can accumulate in the crust above a magma reservoir to form giant copper and gold ore deposits, as well as massive sulphur anomalies. The volumes of sulphur and metals that accumulate in the crust over time exceed the amounts that could have been derived from an isolated magma reservoir. They are instead thought to come from injections of multiple new batches of vapour- and sulphide-saturated magmas into the existing reservoirs. However, the mechanism for the selective upward transfer of sulphur and metals is poorly understood because their main carrier phase, sulphide melt, is dense and is assumed to settle to the bottoms of magma reservoirs. Here we use laboratory experiments as well as gas-speciation and mass-balance models to show that droplets of sulphide melt can attach to vapour bubbles to form compound drops that float. We demonstrate the feasibility of this mechanism for the upward mobility of sulphide liquids to the shallow crust. Our work provides a mechanism for the atmospheric release of large amounts of sulphur, and contradicts the widely held assumption that dense sulphide liquids rich in sulphur, copper and gold will remain sequestered in the deep crust.

Nature Geoscience
Department of Earth Sciences

Mungall, J.E, Brenan, J.M. (J. M.), Godel, B. (B.), Barnes, S.J. (S. J.), & Gaillard, F. (F.). (2015). Transport of metals and sulphur in magmas by flotation of sulphide melt on vapour bubbles. Nature Geoscience, 8(3), 216–219. doi:10.1038/ngeo2373