Diagram of a phreatic eruption. (key: 1. Water vapor cloud 2. Magma conduit 3. Layers of lava and ash 4. Stratum 5. Water table 6. Explosion 7. Magma chamber)
Phreatomagmatic eruptions are eruptions that arise from interactions between water and magma. They are driven from thermal contraction (as opposed to magmatic eruptions, which are driven by thermal expansion) of magma when it comes in contact with water. This temperature difference between the two causes violent water-lava interactions that make up the eruption. The products of phreatomagmatic eruptions are believed to be more regular in shape and finer grained than the products of magmatic eruptions because of the differences in eruptive mechanisms.
There is debate about the exact nature of phreatomagmatic eruptions, and some scientists believe that fuel-coolant reactions may be more critical to the explosive nature than thermal contraction. Fuel coolant reactions may fragment the volcanic material by propagating stress waves, widening cracks and increasing surface area that ultimetly lead to rapid cooling and explosive contraction-driven eruptions.