Open Access

Analog experiments on magma-filled cracks: Competition between external stresses and internal pressure

  • Tohru Watanabe1Email author,
  • Takayuki Masuyama1,
  • Kazuhiro Nagaoka1 and
  • Tsuyoshi Tahara1
Earth, Planets and Space201454:BF03352453

Received: 28 December 2001

Accepted: 27 September 2002

Published: 21 June 2014


We have performed two series of analog experiments using gelatin to study the propagation of liquid-filled cracks in stressed medium. The first series was designed to study the competition between the external stress and the liquid excess pressure in controlling the propagation direction. We systematically controlled the external stress and the liquid excess pressure by changing the surface load and the liquid volume. An ascending crack progressively deflected to be perpendicular to the maximum tensile direction of the external stress. The degree of deflection depends on the ratio of the shear stress on a crack plane to the average liquid excess pressure. More deflection was observed for a crack with a larger ratio. No significant deflection was observed for the ratio less than 0.2. The volcanic activity in a compressional stress field might be understood in the context of this competition. The first series also demonstrated the importance of the gradient of the crack normal stress as a driving force for propagation. The vertical gradient of the gravitational stress generated by a mountain load can control the emplacement depth of magmas, and it might lead to the evolution of eruption style during the lifetime of a volcano. The second series was designed to study the three-dimensional interaction of two parallel buoyancy-driven cracks. The deflection of the second crack takes place, when the ratio of the shear stress generated by the first one to the average excess pressure of the second crack is larger than 0.2. If the second crack reaches the first one, the interaction can lead to the coalescence of two cracks. It has directivity: the region of coalescence extends more in the direction perpendicular to the first crack than in the direction parallel to it. It reflects the stress field around the first crack. This directivity might cause a characteristic spatial variation of magma chemistry through magma mixing.