Bulletin of Volcanology

, Volume 54, Issue 1, pp 10-24

First online:

The lobes of lava flows on Earth and Olympus Mons, Mars

  • G WadgeAffiliated withNERC Unit for Thematic Information Systems, Department of Geography, University of Reading
  • , RMC LopesAffiliated withJet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology

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The lobate distal margins of lava flows provide a useful source of morphological information on the rheology of the lava if the lobes are assumed to represent the arrest of free-flowing isothermal Bingham fluids on a slope. The widths of lobes are a more useful practical index than lobe thicknesses because they are about an order of magnitude larger and can be more accurately measured from aerial photographs and other remote images. Lobes do not suffer from the changes in morphology that channels undergo during the course of eruptions. A terrestrial data set of flow lobe and ancillary measurements from lavas throughout the range alkali olivine basalt to rhyolite shows some features that are predicted by the isothermal Bingham fluid model. These are correlation of width and thickness over more than two orders of magnitude and essentially no correlation of aspect ratio with slope. There is a positive correlation of lobe width with silica content of the lava. From a data set of measurements on lava flow lobes from the Martian volcano Olympus Mons the mean value of aspect ratio (0.07) was found to be significantly less than that for the terrestrial data set (0.19). Higher general levels of effusion rate on Olympus Mons are probably the factor responsible. After normalisation, lobe widths on Olympus Mons are found to be largely equivalent to those expected for terrestrial flows with andesitic/basaltic silica contents.