Bulletin of Volcanology

, Volume 56, Issue 6–7, pp 425–434 | Cite as

Role of olivine cumulates in destabilizing the flanks of Hawaiian volcanoes

Original Paper


The south flank of Kilauea Volcano is unstable and has the structure of a huge landslide; it is one of at least 17 enormous catastrophic landslides shed from the Hawaiian Islands. Mechanisms previously proposed for movement of the south flank invoke slip of the volcanic pile over seafloor sediments. Slip on a low friction décollement alone cannot explain why the thickest and widest sector of the flank moves more rapidly than the rest, or why this section contains a 300 km3 aseismic volume above the seismically defined décollement. It is proposed that this aseismic volume, adjacent to the caldera in the direction of flank slip, consists of olivine cumulates that creep outward, pushing the south flank seawards. Average primary Kilauea tholeiitic magma contains about 16.5 wt.% MgO compared with an average 10 wt.% MgO for erupted subaerial and submarine basalts. This difference requires fractionation of 17 wt.% (14 vol.%) olivine phenocrysts that accumulate near the base of the magma reservoir where they form cumulates. Submarine-erupted Kilauea lavas contain abundant deformed olivine xenocrysts derived from these cumulates. Deformed dunite formed during the tholeiitic shield stage is also erupted as xenoliths in subsequent alkalic lavas. The deformation structures in olivine xenocrysts suggest that the cumulus olivine was densely packed, probably with as little as 5–10 vol.% intercumulus liquid, before entrainment of the xenocrysts. The olivine cumulates were at magmatic temperatures (>1100°C) when the xenocrysts were entrained. Olivine at 1100°C has a rheology similar to ice, and the olivine cumulates should flow down and away from the summit of the volcano. Flow of the olivine cumulates places constant pressure on the unbuttressed seaward flank, leading to an extensional region that localizes deep intrusions behind the flank; these intrusions add to the seaward push. This mechanism ties the source of gravitational instability to the caldera complex and deep rift systems and, therefore, limits catastrophic sector failure of Hawaiian volcanoes to their active growth phase, when the core of olivine cumulates is still hot enough to flow.

Key words

Olivine cumulates Hawaiian volcanoes landslides crystal flow 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1994

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.US Geological SurveyHawaii Volcanoes National ParkUSA

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