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Spongy pahoehoe in Hawaii: A study of vesicle-distribution patterns in basalt and their significance

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A well-defined pahoehoe lava type that is very common medially and distally in Hawaii is characterized by a high concentration and fairly uniform distribution of spherical or near-spherical vesicles. Measurements of vesicle sizes and concentrations have been made on ten of these spongy pahoehoe lava flow-units. The vesicles increase in size toward the middle, accompanied by a moderate increase in lava porosity. The close approach to bilateral symmetry on either side of the horizontal median plane and the common occurrence of a median gas blister shows that no significant upward movement of vesicles occurred, suggesting that the lava possessed a yield strength and was more or less static. Olivine phenocrysts when present are, however, concentrated in the lower half of the same flow units, showing that the lava previously lacked a significant yield strength. The vesicles are regarded as early, inherited from the vent, but the size characteristics of the vesicle population are a late-formed feature. Vesicles grew in static lava mostly by coalescence, and it is postulated that coalescence was promoted by the presence of abundant diktytaxitic voids which punctured the walls of contiguous vesicles. Zones in which the vesicle concentration is lower and the vesicles are larger and strongly deformed interrupt the symmetry of some spongy pahoehoe units, and gas blisters higher than the median plane occur in many examples. These zones are interpreted to result from late-stage shearing, and point to a mechanism by which vesicles may be eliminated from a lava.

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Walker, G.P.L. Spongy pahoehoe in Hawaii: A study of vesicle-distribution patterns in basalt and their significance. Bull Volcanol 51, 199–209 (1989).

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  • Yield Strength
  • Sedimentology
  • Upward Movement
  • Significant Yield
  • Close Approach