What is Pumice?
How Does Pumice Form?
The pore spaces (known as vesicles) in pumice are a clue to how it forms. The vesicles are actually gas bubbles that were trapped in the rock during the rapid cooling of a gas-rich frothy magma.
Some magmas contain several percent dissolved gas by weight while they are under pressure. Stop for a moment and think about that. Gas weighs very little at Earth's surface, but these magmas under pressure can contain several percent gas by weight held in solution.
This is similar to the large amount of dissolved carbon dioxide in a sealed bottle of carbonated beverage such as beer or soda. If you shake the container, then immediately open the bottle, the sudden release of pressure allows the gas to come out of solution, and the beverage erupts from the container in a frothy mess.
A rising body of magma, supercharged with dissolved gas under pressure, behaves in a similar way. As the magma breaks through Earth's surface, the sudden pressure drop causes the gas to come out of solution. This is what produces the enormous rush of high-pressure gas from the vent.
This rush of gas from the vent shreds the magma and blows it out as a molten froth. The froth rapidly solidifies as it flies through the air and falls back to Earth as pieces of pumice. The largest volcanic eruptions can eject many cubic kilometers of material. This material can range in size from tiny dust particles to large blocks of pumice the size of a house.
Large eruptions can blanket the landscape around the volcano with over 100 meters of pumice and launch dust and ash high into the atmosphere.
The sections below give quotations from United States Geological Survey reports describing the production of pumice at two major eruptions.