Although rare, basaltic Plinian eruptions represent a considerable volcanic hazard. The low viscosity of crystal-poor basaltic magma inhibits magma fragmentation; however, Las Sierras-Masaya volcano, Nicaragua, has produced multiple basaltic Plinian eruptions. Here, we quantify the geochemistry and volatile concentrations of melt inclusions in samples of the Fontana Lapilli and Masaya Triple Layer eruptions to constrain pre-eruptive conditions. Combining thermometry and geochemical modelling, we show that magma cooled to similar to 1000 degrees C prior to eruption, crystallising a mush that was erupted and preserved in scoriae. We use these data in a numerical conduit model, which finds that conditions most conducive to Plinian eruptions are a pre-eruptive temperature <1100 degrees C and a total crystal content >30 vol.%. Cooling, crystal-rich, large-volume basaltic magma bodies may be hazardous due to their potential to erupt with Plinian magnitude. Rapid ascent rates mean there may only be some minutes between eruption triggering and Plinian activity at Masaya.
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