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Descriptive nomenclature and classification of pyroclastic deposits and

fragments: Recommendations of the IUGS Subcommission on the Systematics of
Igneous Rocks
R. Schmid

Geology 1981;9;41-43
doi: 10.1130/0091-7613(1981)9<41:DNACOP>2.0.CO;2

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Geological Society of America

Descriptive nomenclature and classification
of pyroclastic deposits and fragments:
Recommendations of the lUGS Subcommission
on the Systematics of Igneous Rocks

R. Schmid
Institut fr Kristallographie und Ptrographie, ETH-Zentrum, 8092 Zrich, Switzerland

INTRODUCTION question of how broadly the terms admixtures. The extended meaning of
During the last four years, a period "pyroclast" and "pyroclastic deposits" "pyroclast" does not contradict the
when working meetings of the Inter- should be defined. One group, represented linguistic content of this term, "pyr"
national Union of Geological Sciences by geologists whose chief concern is denoting fire and "clast" indicating
(IUGS) Subcommission on the Systematics pyroclastic rocks, prefers to restrict breakage.
of Igneous Rocks were dealing with pyro- "pyroclastic deposits" to subaerial fall,
clastic deposits, six questionnaires on the flow, and surge deposits and to use the Terms "Agglomerate" and
descriptive nomenclature and classification median grain diameter (of the nonballistic "Pyroclastic Breccia"
of pyroclastic rocks were circulated to components) as a base of the granulo- Following the preference of many
more than 150 geologists throughout the m e r e classification. Another group, volcanologists, "agglomerate" is applied
world. One of the questionnaires which is composed mainly of paleovol- to coherent as well as to incoherent
accompanied an issue of the Bulletin canologists and geologists dealing only materials, whereas "pyroclastic breccia"
Volcanologique. The answers were temporarily with pyroclastic rocks, prefers refers to mainly consolidated materials
carefully analyzed to obtain representa- to include within the term "pyroclastic because the term "breccia" is traditionally
tive opinions, upon which the recommen- deposits" also lahars, subsurface and vent used for coherent materials.
dations in this paper are based. The deposits (hyaloclastites, intrusion and
recommendations were ratified by the extrusion breccias, tuff dikes, diatremes, Term " T u f f
Subcommission at its Paris meeting in and so forth). Because experienced How broadly should the term " t u f f "
July 1980. volcanologists frequently cannot clearly be defined? The answers on this question
From the beginning, the Subcommission recognize the specific genetic origin of a ranged from "consolidated ash" to "all
aimed at a descriptive, rather than a volcaniclastic rock in the field (for consolidated pyroclastic deposits." Two
genetic, classification suited for field example, to distinguish hyaloclastites advantages would result if " t u f f " were
use, including a minimum number of from other types of pyroclastic rocks), defined in the broad sense: (1) "Tuff
terms and based mainly on the granulo- the Subcommission recommends that could be used as a complementary term to
metrie properties of pyroclastic deposits. "pyroclastic deposit" be used in a broad "tephra." (2) Coming generations of
The Subcommission also intended to sense. It defines "pyroclast" as "generated earth scientists would be free to replace
compile a separate glossary of common by disruption as a direct1 result of vol- "pyroclastic breccia" and "agglomerate"
volcaniclastic rock terms, but this is canic action" instead of "generated by by the terms "block tuff" and "bomb
still incomplete. disruption during volcanic eruptions," tuff," thus reducing the number of basic
pyroclastic deposits being "assemblages descriptive pyroclastic rock terms and
. . . of pyroclasts." Moreover, it allows using for polymodal or poorly sorted
"pyroclastic deposits" to contain as much pyroclastics self-explanatory composite
as 25% by volume of epiclastic, organic, terms such as "ash-block tuff" or
The following paragraphs outline the
chemical sedimentary, and diagenetic "bomb-lapilli tuff." The Subcommission
reasons for our final choice of nomen-
clature and classification summarized decided to take only one step in this
in the next section. direction by using " t u f f " not only for
ash-size materials but also, as "lapilli
Term "Pyroclast" tuff," for coarser pyroclastics. If the
' T h e adjective "direct" excludes autobrec- term " t u f f " is used alone it should
Answers on the questionnaires ciation of lava flows, because the lava flow
revealed a major difference among active itself is the direct result of volcanic action, not
comprise, however, ash-size materials
workers on pyroclastic rocks on the its brecciation. only.

GEOLOGY, v. 9 , p. 4 1 - 4 3 , J A N U A R Y 1981 41
Granulometre Classification PUMICE, Term "Epiclast"
In their definitions, the pyroclasts are The definitions of "epiclast," "epiclastic
characterized by, in addition to other deposit," and "epiclastic rock" must
properties, their size, using as a quantifier be regarded as provisional because they
the "mean diameter." In very coarse and fall outside the purview of the Sub-
in consolidated pyroclastic deposits the commission. They had to be given to
"mean diameter" is usually estimated by clearly delineate pyroclasts and pyroclastic
eye, whereas in incoherent materials it deposits from epiclasts and epiclastic
can be determined by sieving. Because deposits.
there does not exist a standard procedure
that could be prescribed for measuring RECOMMENDED DEFINITIONS AND
the mean diameter in all cases in the CLASSIFICATION
same way, the Subcommission declines Pyroclasts
to define this term. CRYSTALS- ROCK
Pyroclasts are the individual crystals,
Instead of "median diameter," 2 the FRAGMENTS crystal fragments, glass fragments, and
more generalized term "average diameter" Figure 1. Subdivision of tuffs and ashes accord- rock fragments generated by disruption
has been used in the granulometrie classi- ing to their fragmental composition. as a direct result of volcanic action. The
fication of pyroclastic deposits, taking shapes they assumed during disruption
into account that granulometrie analyses or during subsequent transport to the pri-
will rarely be carried out and that rocks is lacking. When in future such an mary deposit must not have been altered
generally the grain size will be estimated agreement is achieved, it may be necessary by later redeposition processes. If they
by eye. to modify the divisions so that they will were altered, the crystals or fragments
The Subcommission, in deciding 011 fit appropriate sedimentary size limits. would be called "reworked pyroclasts"
appropriate granulometrie size limits, Sedimentologists are invited to reinforce or "epiclasts" (if their pyroclastic origin
would have preferred to divide the granu- their efforts to establish a unified is uncertain).
lometrie scale at 50, 2, and 0.05 or granulometrie classification of sediments. A bomb is a pyroclast with a mean
0.1 mm. Because these numbers are rot diameter commonly exceeding 64 mm. Its
even numbers on the scale widely used Genetic Prefixes shape (ellipsoidal, discoidal, or irregular)
by sedimentologists, the 64, 2, and 1/16 The terms for pyroclastic deposits cited or its surface (for example, "bread-crust"
mm limits were choosen. These numbers, below may be prefixed by terms denoting surface) indicates that during its forma-
however, have to be regarded as provi- the specific genetic origin of the deposit tion and subsequent transport it was in
sional as long as international agreement or the chemical composition of the parent a wholly or partly molten condition.
on granulometrie divisions of sedimentary magmafor example, "air-fall t u f f , " A block is a pyroclast with a mean
"lacustrine t u f f , " "laharic ash-lapilli diameter exceeding 64 mm, whose com-
t u f f , " "rhyolitic crystal t u f f , " "vent monly angular to subangular shape indi-
agglomerate." The terms may also be cates that during its formation it was
T h e m e d i a n diameter o f the grain popula-
tion o f a rock is the diameter b y w h i c h the area
replaced by purely genetic terms, such as in a solid state.
b e l o w a weight-percentage f r e q u e n c y distribu- "hyaloclastite" and "base-surge deposits," Lapilli are pyroclasts of any shape,
tion curve is divided i n t o t w o equal parts. whenever it seems appropriate to do so. with mean diameters of 2 to 64 mm.
Ash grains are pyroclasts with mean
diameters smaller than 2 mm.
pyroclasts with mean diameters smaller
than 1/16 mm.
Clast size Pyroclast Pyroclastic deposit
(mm) Pyroclastic Deposits: General Terms
Pyroclastic deposits (= "pyroclastics")
Mainly unconsolidated: Mainly c o n s o l i d a t e d :
tephra p y r o c l a s t i c rock
include both consolidated 3 and uncon-
solidated assemblages of pyroclasts. They
Bomb, block Agglomerate, bed o f Agglomerate, must contain more than 75% pyroclasts
blocks p y r o c l a s t i c breccia by volume.
borib, block tephra Pyroclastic rocks are predominantly
64 mm
consolidated pyroclastic deposits.
Lapillus Layer, bed o f l a p i l l i
Tephra is a collective term for pyro-
or clastic deposits that are predominantly
Lapilli tuff
l a p i l l i tephra unconsolidated.
2 mm
Coarse ash g r a i n Coarse ash Coarse (ash) tuff
1/16 mm
Fine ash g r a i n Fi rie ash ( d u s t ) Fine (ash) t u f f "Consolidated" as used in the f o l l o w i n g
(dust g r a i n ) (dust t u f f ) is t h o u g h t t o comprise adjectives such as
" c o h e r e n t , " " c e m e n t e d , " and "indurated."

42 J A N U A R Y 1981

Pyroclastic* Tuffites Epiclastic Avg

(mixed p y r o c l a s t i c - e p i c l a s t i c ) (volcanic and/or nonvolcanic) c l a s t size

Agglomerate, a g g l u t i n a t e
p y r o c l a s t i c breccia Tuffaceous conglomerate, Conglomerate, breccia 64
tuffaceous breccia
Lapilli tuff
coarse Tuffaceous sandstone Sandstone
(Ash) t u f f 1/16
fine Tuffaceous s i l t s t o n e Siltstone
Tuffaceous mudstone, shale Mudstone, shale
100 75 25 0% by volume

Volcanic + nonvolcanic e p i c l a s t s (+ minor amounts of
biogenic, chemical sedimentary and authigenic

*Terms according to Table 1.

Pyroclastic Deposits: Terms for Unimodal one dominant size fraction should be Mixed Pyroclastic-Epiclastic Rocks
and Well-Sorted Pyroclastic Deposits named by using an appropriate combi- (Table 2)
(Table 1, Figure 1) nation of the terms cited in Table 1. "Tuffites" are rocks consisting of
A pyroclastic breccia is a pyroclastic Examples: mixtures of pyroclasts and epiclasts
rock whose average pyroclast size exceeds ash-lapilli tuff (lapilli > ash) (<75% pyroclasts, >25% epiclasts by
64 mm and in which angular pyroclasts lapilli-ash tuff (ash > lapilli) volume).
predominate. lapilli tuff-breccia/-agglomerate
An agglomerate is a pyroclastic rock (lapilli - blocks/bombs) ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
or deposit whose average pyroclast size (ash) tuff-breccia/-agglomerate Reviewed by C. R. Bacon and P. C. Bateman.
exceeds 64 mm and in which rounded (ash ~ blocks/bombs) The Subcommission members appreciate the
pyroclasts predominate. ash-lapilli tuff-breccia/-agglomerate help of all colleagues who answered the ques-
(lapilli > ash blocks/bombs). tionnaires; we regret that space limitations
A lapilli tuff is a pyroclastic rock whose
preclude listing all of their names here. Discus-
average pyroclast size is 2 to 64 mm. sions with H.-U. Schmincke on some critical
A tuff (or ash t u f f ) is a pyroclastic Epiclasts and Epiclastic Deposits points were helpful. The following participated
rock whose average pyroclast size is less Epiclasts are crystals, crystal fragments, in the working meetings during which answers
than 2 mm. to previous questionnaires were discussed and
glass fragments, and rock fragments that
subsequent questionnaires were outlined: C. D.
A dust tuff (or fine ash t u f f ) is a have been liberated from any type of pre- Branch (Australia), J. W. Cole (New Zealand),
pyroclastic rock whose average pyroclast existing rock (volcanic or nonvolcanic) W. Duffield (United States), A. M. Goodwin
size is less than 1/16 mm. by weathering or erosion and transported (Canada), H. Honnorez (United States), M. J.
from their place of origin by gravity, air, Le Bas (Great Britain), V. Lorenz (BRD),
V. E. Neal (New Zealand), R. Schmid (Switzer-
Pyroclastic Deposits: Terms for water, or ice. land), V. S z i k y - F u x (Hungary), M. E. Teruggi
Polymodal or Poorly Sorted An epiclastic deposit is a consolidated (Argentina), P. M. Vincent (France).
Pyroclastic Rocks or unconsolidated aggregate of epiclasts.
Polymodal or poorly sorted pyroclastic An epiclastic rock is a mainly consoli- MANUSCRIPT RECEIVED OCT. 22, 1980
rocks containing pyroclasts of more than dated epiclastic deposit. MANUSCRIPT ACCEPTED OCT. 27, 1980