Bulletin of Volcanology

, Volume 72, Issue 2, pp 149–164 | Cite as

No depth limit to hydrovolcanic limu o Pele: analysis of limu from Lō`ihi Seamount, Hawai`i

  • C. Ian SchipperEmail author
  • James D. L. White
Research Article


Deep-sea limu o Pele are shards of basaltic glass commonly described as “bubble walls.” When first identified they were inferred to form in submarine fire fountains, but were then reinterpreted as the products of hydrovolcanic volcanism, formed when submarine lava flows entrapped and vaporised seawater. Limu discovered below the c 3 km critical depth of seawater, where superheated water exists as a supercritical fluid instead of a vapour, led to the hydrovolcanic model of limu o Pele formation being discarded in favour of a magmatic CO2-driven, “strombolian-like” model. This revised magmatic mechanism has been widely accepted by the scientific community. We describe a newly discovered limu o Pele-rich deposit at ~1,052 mbsl on the northeast summit plateau region of Lō`ihi Seamount, Hawai`i. The limu at this site is concentrated in a chemically monomict ash lens interbedded with thin lava sheets that are separated from overlying volcaniclastic material by a discontinuity. The geometry and geochemistry of the deposit provide compelling evidence for a hydrovolcanic, sheet flow-related origin. The exceptional abundance and preservation of limu at this site allows 4 morphologic subtypes of limu- thin film, plateau-border, convex film, and Pele’s hair- to be identified and linked to portions of the isolated rupturing bubbles from which they are derived. We extend our discussion to beyond this new Lō`ihi deposit, by including a review of limu o Pele occurrences and thermodynamic considerations that demonstrate the hydrovolcanic model of limu formation to be more tenable than the magmatic model at all depths, including below the critical depth of seawater.


Loihi Hawaii Limu Hydrovolcanic Subaqueous Pyroclastic 



We thank J.R. Smith, T. Kirby and the HURL crew for their help in making the October 2006 dive series successful. D.A. Clague generously supplied limu samples for comparison. This work was funded by HURL, GNS Science, and the University of Otago. Thanks also to B.F. Houghton for hosting C.I.S. for extended study and use of facilities at the University of Hawai`i, to W.K. Stovall and R. Murtagh for helpful discussions, and to K.R. Higbee for perspective. Thorough reviews by D.A. Clague and an anonymous reviewer helped to significantly improve the paper.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Geology DepartmentUniversity of OtagoDunedinNew Zealand

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