Bulletin of Volcanology

, Volume 74, Issue 7, pp 1645–1666 | Cite as

Origin of internal flow structures in columnar-jointed basalt from Hrepphólar, Iceland: I. Textural and geochemical characterization

  • Sonja A. BosshardEmail author
  • Hannes B. MattssonEmail author
  • György Hetényi
Research Article


Basalt columns from Hrepphólar (Iceland) show distinct internal structures produced by alternating brighter and darker bands through the column, locally exhibiting viscous fingering features. Here, we present geochemical and petrographic data retrieved from analyses of major and trace elements and mineral chemistry from a cross section of a single basaltic column. This is combined with petrographic descriptions and data on crystal size distributions of plagioclase. We use our data from Hrepphólar to test four existing models that have been proposed to explain banded structures inside columns: (1) deuteric alteration, (2) double-diffusive convection, (3) constitutional supercooling, and (4) crystallization-induced melt migration. We find that the internal structures at Hrepphólar represent primary magmatic features, because approximately 20 % of the observed structures crosscut the column-bounding fracture for each meter along the main axis of the column. These features must thus have been formed before the column-delimiting crack advanced. Major and trace element analyses show small but significant variations across the column and strong correlation between oxides like FeO and TiO2, as well as K2O and P2O5. The geochemical variations correlate with the presence of darker/brighter bands visible on a polished surface and can be explained by a variation in the modal proportions of the main phenocryst phases (specifically variable plagioclase and titanomagnetite content). This banding enhances the internal structures apparent in the polished cross section from columnar joints at Hrepphólar. The measured variations in major and trace element geochemistry, as well as mineral chemistry, are too small to distinguish between the proposed band-forming models. Plagioclase crystal size distributions, however, display a systematic change across the column that is consistent with late-stage migration of melt inside the column (i.e., the crystallization induced melt migration hypothesis). The central part of the columns have plagioclases indicative of slow cooling and these are also more steeply oriented (i.e., subparallel to the column axis) compared with plagioclases present in the more rapidly cooled edges. This redistribution of melt within individual columns may significantly affect the cooling rate of columnar-jointed lava flows and intrusions.


Columnar jointing Hrepphólar Iceland Melt migration Crystal size distribution Magmatic banding 



The authors thank Bjarne Almqvist and Ann Hirt for introducing the AMS technique and many interesting discussions on the magnetic fabrics of the Hrepphólar columns. The authors are also grateful to Ármann Höskuldsson for first introducing the peculiar structures inside the columns from Hrepphólar and S. Helgason Ehf. (Reykjavik) who provided the polished slab that was used for this project. Finally, Lydia Zehnder and Markus Wälle are also acknowledged for assisting with XRF and LA-ICP-MS measurements.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Geochemistry and PetrologySwiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH Zürich)ZurichSwitzerland
  2. 2.ZürichSwitzerland

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