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During the climactic Plinian phase of the 1886 basaltic eruption of Tarawera, New Zealand, vents along the 17 km fissure erupted explosively with a wide range of dispersal. The 8 km long segment of the fissure which cuts across Mt Tarawera contains approximately 50 vents and includes the sources of both the weakest and most intense activity of the 5 h eruption. We seek to explain (1) what allowed the intensity to reach Plinian values that are rarely achieved by basaltic magma, and (2) what caused adjacent vents to erupt with very different dispersals and intensities despite identical magma...

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