Lapilli, which means “little stones” in Italian, refers to small rock fragments ejected during volcanic eruptions. These fragments typically range in size from 2 to 64 millimeters in diameter, making them larger than volcanic ash but smaller than volcanic bombs or blocks. Lapilli are commonly found in volcanic deposits and can accumulate in layers on the ground, forming a type of volcaniclastic rock known as lapilli tuff.

Lapilli-tuff, Jakub Jirásek, 2019 (

Definition: Lapilli are volcanic particles that solidify from molten lava or are fragmented during explosive volcanic activity. They can be composed of various materials, including volcanic glass, crystals, and rock fragments. The size of lapilli falls within a specific range, distinguishing them from finer volcanic ash and coarser volcanic blocks.

Geological Significance: The presence of lapilli in volcanic deposits provides valuable information to geologists about the nature and intensity of past volcanic eruptions. The size and composition of lapilli can indicate the type of volcanic activity, ranging from relatively gentle effusive eruptions to more explosive events. The deposition of lapilli layers helps scientists reconstruct the history of volcanic activity in a particular region.

Lapilli tuffs, formed by the accumulation and cementation of lapilli, are important geological formations. They often serve as indicators of volcanic activity in sedimentary sequences, and the study of these rocks can provide insights into the volcanic history of an area. Additionally, the identification and analysis of lapilli in volcanic deposits contribute to our understanding of volcanic processes, eruption dynamics, and the evolution of volcanic landscapes.

In summary, lapilli play a crucial role in the field of volcanology, helping scientists unravel the history of volcanic events and contributing to our understanding of Earth’s dynamic geological processes.

Types of Lapilli

Lapilli come in various types, distinguished by their composition, shape, and the processes that formed them. Here are some common types of lapilli:

  1. Accretionary Lapilli:
    • Description: Accretionary lapilli are small volcanic particles that form by the accretion of ash or other volcanic debris around a central nucleus, often a mineral or a pre-existing lapillus. They have concentric layers resembling miniature volcanic hailstones.
    • Formation: They typically form in volcanic eruption plumes with high water content, where the ash particles stick together due to moisture, creating these layered structures.
  2. Fluidal Lapilli:
    • Description: Fluidal lapilli have rounded shapes and are characterized by a smooth, melted appearance. They result from the welding of ash and lapilli in the presence of high temperatures and gases during an explosive eruption.
    • Formation: Fluidal lapilli are commonly associated with pyroclastic flows, where volcanic materials move rapidly and can undergo partial melting and welding.
  3. Vitrophyric Lapilli:
    • Description: Vitrophyric lapilli contain glassy portions and often have a porphyritic texture, meaning they have larger crystals (phenocrysts) embedded in a finer matrix.
    • Formation: These lapilli form when magma with a mix of crystals and molten material is explosively ejected, and the molten portions solidify quickly to create the glassy texture.
  4. Crystal Lapilli:
    • Description: Crystal lapilli are composed mostly of crystalline material, such as minerals like olivine, pyroxene, or feldspar.
    • Formation: They form when volcanic gases and ash surround and partially or fully crystallize around existing mineral crystals during an eruption.
  5. Cored Lapilli:
    • Description: Cored lapilli have a central core, often a pre-existing rock or mineral, surrounded by layers of volcanic material.
    • Formation: They form through a similar process as accretionary lapilli, with the central core acting as a nucleus around which volcanic material accumulates.
  6. Dense-Rock Lapilli:
    • Description: Dense-rock lapilli are lapilli composed of solidified lava fragments or other dense volcanic rocks.
    • Formation: They form in explosive eruptions where larger fragments of solidified lava are ejected and subsequently fall to the ground.

These types of lapilli provide valuable information about the conditions and processes during volcanic eruptions, and their study aids in understanding the dynamics of volcanic activity and the history of volcanic events in a particular region.

Formation Environments

The formation environments of lapilli are closely tied to the specific volcanic processes and eruption dynamics. Different types of lapilli can be associated with various volcanic activities. Here are some common formation environments:

  1. Explosive Eruptions:
    • Description: Lapilli are often associated with explosive volcanic eruptions where magma is fragmented into small particles during the eruption.
    • Formation: During explosive eruptions, magma is violently expelled, and the erupted material can range from fine ash to lapilli-sized fragments. The size of the lapilli depends on factors like the viscosity of the magma and the presence of gases.
  2. Pyroclastic Flows:
    • Description: Pyroclastic flows are fast-moving currents of hot gas, ash, and volcanic rock fragments.
    • Formation: Fluidal lapilli can form in pyroclastic flows as a result of the rapid movement of volcanic material, which can partially melt and weld together, creating rounded, fluidal shapes.
  3. Plinian Eruptions:
    • Description: Plinian eruptions are characterized by sustained, explosive columns of ash and gas rising high into the atmosphere.
    • Formation: Accretionary lapilli are commonly associated with Plinian eruptions, forming in the ash-rich plumes as ash particles aggregate and accrete around central nuclei.
  4. Phreatomagmatic Eruptions:
    • Description: Phreatomagmatic eruptions occur when magma comes into contact with water, leading to explosive fragmentation of the magma.
    • Formation: Accretionary lapilli can form in phreatomagmatic eruptions due to the wet conditions. Water droplets coat ash particles, causing them to stick together and form layered structures.
  5. Hawaiian-Style Eruptions:
    • Description: Hawaiian-style eruptions are typically characterized by the effusion of relatively low-viscosity basaltic lava.
    • Formation: Lapilli in Hawaiian-style eruptions can result from the fragmentation of lava into small particles as it interacts with the atmosphere, solidifying before reaching the ground.
  6. Lava Fountaining:
    • Description: Lava fountaining involves the ejection of molten lava into the air during an eruption.
    • Formation: Crystal lapilli can form in lava fountains as minerals within the molten lava partially crystallize and are then ejected into the air along with the liquid lava.

Understanding the formation environments of lapilli provides insights into the eruptive history and volcanic conditions of a particular region. The study of lapilli and associated deposits helps geologists reconstruct the dynamics of past volcanic events and assess potential volcanic hazards in the future.

Distribution and Occurrence

The distribution and occurrence of lapilli are closely tied to the locations of volcanic activity around the world. Lapilli deposits can be found in various geological settings, and their presence provides important clues about past volcanic events. Here are some key aspects of the distribution and occurrence of lapilli:

  1. Volcanic Regions:
    • Lapilli deposits are commonly found in volcanic regions, including volcanic arcs, rift zones, and hotspots. These areas are characterized by the presence of active or extinct volcanoes.
  2. Volcanic Islands:
    • Many volcanic islands, especially those formed by hotspot or subduction-related volcanic activity, have extensive lapilli deposits. The accumulation of lapilli contributes to the formation of volcanic landforms on these islands.
  3. Pyroclastic Cones and Calderas:
    • Lapilli often accumulates around volcanic vents, forming pyroclastic cones. In calderas, which are large volcanic craters typically formed by the collapse of a volcano after a massive eruption, lapilli deposits may be widespread.
  4. Tuff Rings and Tuff Cones:
    • Lapilli tuffs, which are rocks composed of lapilli, can be found in tuff rings and tuff cones. These landforms are created by the explosive interaction between magma and water, resulting in the deposition of lapilli-rich materials.
  5. Volcanic Plateaus:
    • Some volcanic plateaus, formed by the accumulation of volcanic materials over extensive areas, may contain lapilli deposits along with other volcaniclastic rocks.
  6. Volcanic Sedimentary Sequences:
    • Lapilli deposits contribute to volcanic sedimentary sequences. These sequences can be preserved in the geological record, providing a timeline of past volcanic activity and environmental conditions.
  7. Submarine Volcanism:
    • Lapilli can also occur in underwater volcanic environments. Submarine eruptions can produce lapilli that accumulate on the ocean floor, contributing to the formation of volcanic seamounts and other submarine volcanic features.
  8. Impact Craters:
    • In some cases, lapilli-sized particles can also be associated with impact craters. During a meteorite impact, the target rocks can be fragmented into various-sized particles, including lapilli-sized ejecta.

The distribution of lapilli is not uniform, as it depends on the specific characteristics of individual volcanic eruptions and the geological context in which they occur. Geologists study the distribution and occurrence of lapilli to understand the history and dynamics of volcanic activity in a region, assess potential volcanic hazards, and gain insights into the Earth’s geological evolution.

Use of Lapilli in Geology

Lapilli, with their various types and occurrences, serve several important purposes in the field of geology. Geologists use lapilli to gain insights into past volcanic activities, understand eruption dynamics, and reconstruct geological histories. Here are some key uses of lapilli in geology:

  1. Volcanic History Reconstruction:
    • Lapilli deposits provide a record of past volcanic eruptions. By studying the distribution, composition, and characteristics of lapilli layers, geologists can reconstruct the eruptive history of a particular volcanic region. This information helps in understanding the frequency, magnitude, and style of past volcanic activity.
  2. Eruption Dynamics:
    • The size, shape, and composition of lapilli can provide clues about the dynamics of volcanic eruptions. For example, the presence of accretionary lapilli may indicate wet and explosive eruptions, while fluidal lapilli may suggest high-temperature, pyroclastic flow events. Studying these features helps geologists understand the conditions under which eruptions occurred.
  3. Paleoenvironmental Reconstruction:
    • Lapilli deposits contribute to paleoenvironmental studies by providing information on the environmental conditions during past volcanic events. For instance, the presence of certain types of lapilli can indicate whether an eruption occurred in a wet or dry environment, influencing the deposition and consolidation of volcanic materials.
  4. Volcanic Hazard Assessment:
    • Understanding the distribution and characteristics of lapilli deposits is crucial for assessing volcanic hazards. Geologists can use this information to identify areas at risk of future eruptions, evaluate potential impacts on nearby communities, and develop strategies for mitigating volcanic hazards.
  5. Stratigraphic Correlation:
    • Lapilli layers act as stratigraphic markers in geological formations. Geologists can correlate these layers across different locations, helping establish timelines and relationships between volcanic events. This aids in the development of regional geological frameworks.
  6. Identification of Volcanic Deposits:
    • Lapilli play a key role in identifying volcanic deposits in sedimentary sequences. The recognition of lapilli tuffs and associated rocks assists geologists in distinguishing volcanic layers from other sedimentary rocks, contributing to accurate geological mapping and interpretation.
  7. Paleoclimate Studies:
    • Lapilli deposits can provide information on past climates. The interaction of volcanic aerosols, including lapilli-sized particles, with the atmosphere can have short-term and long-term effects on climate. Studying these deposits aids in understanding past climatic changes.
  8. Mineral Resource Exploration:
    • Lapilli deposits may contain valuable minerals and resources. Geologists involved in mineral resource exploration study volcanic rocks, including lapilli tuffs, to identify potential deposits of economic interest.

In summary, the study of lapilli is integral to various aspects of geology, ranging from reconstructing Earth’s volcanic history to assessing volcanic hazards and understanding past environmental conditions. The information derived from lapilli deposits contributes significantly to our knowledge of geological processes and the Earth’s dynamic evolution.

Lapilli’s Properties

The properties of lapilli, which are volcanic particles ejected during eruptions, can vary depending on factors such as composition, size, and formation conditions. Here are some key properties associated with lapilli:

  1. Size:
    • Lapilli are generally small volcanic particles with diameters ranging from 2 to 64 millimeters. This puts them in the intermediate size range between volcanic ash (smaller particles) and volcanic blocks or bombs (larger fragments).
  2. Composition:
    • Lapilli can be composed of various materials, including volcanic glass, crystals (minerals), and rock fragments. The specific composition depends on the type of magma involved in the eruption and the characteristics of the volcanic rocks present in the eruptive system.
  3. Shape:
    • The shape of lapilli can vary, but they often have rounded or angular forms. Fluidal lapilli, for example, may exhibit a smooth, melted appearance due to the welding of ash and lapilli during explosive eruptions.
  4. Accretionary Features:
    • Accretionary lapilli, a specific type of lapilli, may exhibit concentric layers resembling miniature hailstones. These layers form due to the agglomeration of ash particles around a central nucleus.
  5. Texture:
    • The texture of lapilli can range from coarse to fine, depending on the size of the particles and the degree of fragmentation during the eruption. Lapilli tuffs, which are rocks composed of lapilli, often have a fragmental and sometimes layered texture.
  6. Color:
    • The color of lapilli is influenced by the minerals present in the volcanic rocks. Lapilli can exhibit a range of colors, including black, brown, red, and various shades of gray, depending on the volcanic source material.
  7. Density:
    • Lapilli can have variable density depending on the degree of compaction and the types of materials present. Dense-rock lapilli, for example, may be composed of solidified lava fragments and have a higher density than lapilli composed mainly of volcanic ash.
  8. Porosity:
    • The porosity of lapilli, or the presence of open spaces between particles, can affect the rock’s physical properties. Lapilli tuffs, which often contain ash-sized particles in addition to lapilli, can be porous and may serve as aquifers or reservoirs for groundwater.
  9. Welding Features:
    • In lapilli formed by welding processes, such as in pyroclastic flows, evidence of welding may be observed. This can result in a cohesive texture where particles are fused together due to high temperatures and pressure.

Understanding these properties is essential for geologists when interpreting volcanic deposits, reconstructing eruptive histories, and assessing the potential hazards associated with volcanic activity. Lapilli and lapilli tuffs are valuable geological indicators that provide insights into the dynamic processes occurring within the Earth’s crust.


In conclusion, lapilli, volcanic particles with diameters ranging from 2 to 64 millimeters, play a significant role in geological studies, providing valuable insights into past volcanic activities and Earth’s dynamic processes. Here is a summary of key points and the importance of lapilli in geological studies:

  1. Formation and Types:
    • Lapilli are formed during volcanic eruptions through the fragmentation of magma into small particles. Various types of lapilli include accretionary lapilli, fluidal lapilli, vitrophyric lapilli, crystal lapilli, cored lapilli, and dense-rock lapilli.
  2. Geological Significance:
    • Lapilli deposits are crucial for reconstructing the eruptive history of volcanic regions. The study of lapilli provides information about eruption dynamics, environmental conditions, and the types of volcanic activities that occurred in the past.
  3. Formation Environments:
    • Lapilli form in different volcanic environments, such as explosive eruptions, pyroclastic flows, Plinian eruptions, phreatomagmatic eruptions, Hawaiian-style eruptions, and lava fountaining. Each environment contributes to the unique characteristics of lapilli.
  4. Distribution and Occurrence:
    • Lapilli deposits are found in volcanic regions, islands, pyroclastic cones, calderas, volcanic plateaus, and even underwater volcanic environments. They contribute to the formation of various geological features and are essential for understanding regional geological frameworks.
  5. Uses in Geology:
    • Lapilli are used to reconstruct volcanic history, understand eruption dynamics, and assess volcanic hazards. They serve as stratigraphic markers, aiding in correlation across different locations. Lapilli also contribute to paleoenvironmental and paleoclimate studies.
  6. Properties:
    • Lapilli exhibit properties such as size, composition, shape, texture, color, density, porosity, and welding features. These properties are essential for interpreting volcanic deposits, identifying different types of lapilli, and understanding the characteristics of volcanic rocks.
  7. Volcanic Hazard Assessment:
    • Lapilli deposits play a crucial role in assessing volcanic hazards. The information derived from studying lapilli helps in identifying areas at risk of future eruptions, evaluating potential impacts, and developing strategies for mitigating volcanic hazards.
  8. Mineral Resource Exploration:
    • Lapilli deposits may contain valuable minerals, making them of interest for mineral resource exploration. Geologists study lapilli tuffs to identify potential economic deposits within volcanic rocks.

In summary, lapilli are key geological indicators that contribute significantly to our understanding of Earth’s volcanic history, eruption dynamics, and the processes shaping the planet’s surface. The study of lapilli is fundamental to advancing knowledge in the field of geology and plays a crucial role in geological research and hazard assessment.