Bulletin of Volcanology

, Volume 71, Issue 3, pp 313–318 | Cite as

A frozen record of density-driven crustal overturn in lava lakes: the example of Kīlauea Iki 1959

  • Wendy K. StovallEmail author
  • B. F. Houghton
  • A. J. L. Harris
  • D. A. Swanson
Research Article


Lava lakes are found at basaltic volcanoes on Earth and other planetary bodies. Density-driven crustal foundering leading to surface renewal occurs repeatedly throughout the life of a lava lake. This process has been observed and described in a qualitative sense, but due to dangerous conditions, no data has been acquired to evaluate the densities of the units involved. Kīlauea Iki pit crater in Hawai`i houses a lava lake erupted during a 2 month period in 1959. Part of the surface of the Kīlauea Iki lake now preserves the frozen record of a final, incomplete, crustal-overturn cycle. We mapped this region and sampled portions of the foundering crust, as well as overriding and underlying lava, to constrain the density of the units involved in the overturn process. Overturn is driven by the advance of a flow front of fresh, low-density lava over an older, higher density surface crust. The advance of the front causes the older crust to break up, founder, and dive downwards into the lake to expose new, hot, low-density lava. We find density differences of 200 to 740 kg/m3 between the foundering crust and over-riding and under-lying lava respectively. In this case, crustal overturn is driven by large density differences between the foundering and resurfacing units. These differences lead, inevitably, to frequent crustal renewal: simple density differences between the surface crust and underlying lake lava make the upper layers of the lake highly unstable.


Lava lake Kīlauea Hawai‘i Crustal foundering Surface crust Overturn Density 



We thank Ian Schipper and Andrea Steffke for their helpful field work and sample collection. This research was funded by National Science Foundation grant EAR-0409303. We would also like to thank W. Duffield, U. Küppers, F. Witham and an anonymous reviewer for their thorough reviews of this manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Wendy K. Stovall
    • 1
    Email author
  • B. F. Houghton
    • 1
  • A. J. L. Harris
    • 2
  • D. A. Swanson
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Geology and GeophysicsUniversity of Hawai`i at MānoaHonoluluUSA
  2. 2.Hawai`i Institute of Geophysics and PlanetologyUniversity of Hawai`i at MānoaHonoluluUSA
  3. 3.Hawaiian Volcano ObservatoryUS Geological SurveyHonoluluUSA

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