Pahoehoe and aa in Hawaii: volumetric flow rate controls the lava structure
- Cite this article as:
- Rowland, S.K. & Walker, G.P. Bull Volcanol (1990) 52: 615. doi:10.1007/BF00301212
The historical records of Kilauea and Mauna Loa volcanoes reveal that the rough-surfaced variety of basalt lava called aa forms when lava flows at a high volumetric rate (>5–10 m3/s), and the smooth-surfaced variety called pahoehoe forms at a low volumetric rate (<5–10 m3/s). This relationship is well illustrated by the 1983–1990 and 1969–1974 eruptions of Kilauea and the recent eruptions of Mauna Loa. It is also illustrated by the eruptions that produced the remarkable paired flows of Mauna Loa, in which aa formed during an initial short period of high discharge rate (associated with high fountaining) and was followed by the eruption of pahoehoe over a sustained period at a low discharge rate (with little or no fountaining). The finest examples of paired lava flows are those of 1859 and 1880–1881. We attribute aa formation to rapid and concentrated flow in open channels. There, rapid heat loss causes an increase in viscosity to a threshold value (that varies depending on the actual flow velocity) at which, when surface crust is torn by differential flow, the underlying lava is unable to move sufficiently fast to heal the tear. We attribute pahoehoe formation to the flowage of lava at a low volumetric rate, commonly in tubes that minimize heat loss. Flow units of pahoehoe are small (usually <1 m thick), move slowly, develop a chilled skin, and become virtually static before the viscosity has risen, to the threshold value. We infer that the high-discharge-rate eruptions that generate aa flows result from the rapid emptying of major or subsidiary magma chambers. Rapid near-surface vesiculation of gas-rich magma leads to eruptions with high discharge rates, high lava fountains, and fast-moving channelized flows. We also infer that long periods of sustained flow at a low discharge rate, which favor pahoehoe, result from the development of a free and unimpeded pathway from the deep plumbing system of the volcano and the separation of gases from the magma before eruption. Achievement of this condition requires one or more episodes of rapid magma excursion through the rift zone to establish a stable magma pathway.