The structural evolution of calderas is a key issue in volcanology and has profound implications for hazard analysis and the exploitation of geothermal energy and hydrothermal ores. However, their internal geometry at depth and the detailed fault and fracture distribution are unclear and debated. In order to better constrain the internal structural evolution of calderas, I have developed a 3D discrete element model of a frictional cover undergoing piston-like subsidence at its base, simulating magma chamber deflation and cover collapse. I examine two piston geometries, simulating magma chambers with roofs that are circular and rectangular in plan view, to investigate patterns of faulting and subsidence in three dimensions. In both models a complex arrangement of normal and reverse faults accommodates deeper subsidence at higher structural levels. Bell- to cone-shaped, outward-dipping ring faults are consistently the first structures to develop; these faults propagate upwards from the piston edges towards the surface. Later caldera growth is mainly the result of movement on vertical, or steeply inward-dipping, normal ring faults which enclose the earlier reverse faults. As a result, all calderas widen, in terms of their surface expression, with time. The final stage of caldera development includes significant collapse of the caldera walls and transport of this material towards the caldera center. The results confirm that the evolutionary patterns/stages proposed from 2D numerical and analogue models can be generalized to three dimensions, although significant differences between long- and short-axis geometries do occur when the piston is elongate. Compared to 2D simulations, however, 3D results show the geometric complexity of ring faulting, with variations in strain and fault activity at various stages of development demonstrating that often a simple, continuous ring fault structure is not developed.
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