Bulletin of Volcanology

, 81:21 | Cite as

The multi-scale influence of topography on lava flow morphology

  • Paul Richardson
  • Leif KarlstromEmail author
Research Article


Predicting lava flow pathways is important for understanding effusive eruptions and for volcanic hazard assessment. One particular challenge is understanding the interplay between flow pathways and substrate topography that is often rough on a variety of scales (< 1 m to 10 s km). To study this problem, we develop a lava flow modeling framework that combines spectral analysis of substrate roughness with a new lava flow model (MULTIFLOW). The MUTLIFLOW model includes a multiple flow direction routing algorithm in conjunction with a thresholding function that limits the extent of the flow. Comparison of MULTIFLOW results with recent flows on Mt. Etna, Mauna Loa, and Ki̅lauea suggests that MULTIFLOW accurately predicts the influence of topography on lava flow paths and morphology. Spectral filtering of pre-flow digital elevation models allow us to quantify which topographic wavelengths are most important for influencing lava flow pathways. Filtering constrains the height of pre-existing objects that flow overtop as a measure of flow thickness, and aids in identifying divergence of flow pathways from pre-eruptive topography that would result from modification of the substrate by the flow. Low-pass filter cutoffs in the range of ~ 10–100 m significantly improve the fit between modeled flow and real flow paths, suggesting a sensitivity of lava flow paths to such mesoscale topographic wavelengths. The three case studies are generalized with a parameter investigation of lava flow branching on synthetic red-noise topography. We demonstrate that the tendency of a flow to branch or not can be predicted on the basis of spectral characteristics of the underlying surface. We end by examining spectral signatures associated with volcanic and erosional processes on the Island of Hawai’i that may aid in forecasting lava flow pathways and deconvolving competing topographic construction and erosion in volcanic landscapes on longer timescales.


Lava flows Volcanic hazards Volcanic landscape evolution Change detection Flow routing Topographic roughness 



The authors thank Michael Poland and Hannah Dietterich for their sharing of DEM data, and J. Taylor Perron for discussions surrounding his spectral analysis code. Comments, especially regarding the case study lava flows on Hawai’i and Etna, by Simone Tarquini and an anonymous reviewer, as well as comments by associate editor Hannah Dietterich and executive editor Andrew Harris, significantly improved the manuscript.

Code availability

The MULTIFLOW lava flow routing model is available on GitHUB at and VHub. DEM spectral analysis tools developed by J.T. Perron may be obtained at


  1. Applegarth LJ, Pinkerton H, James MR, Calvari S (2010) Morphological complexities and hazards during the emplacement of channel-fed `a`ā lava flow fields: a study of the 2001 lower flow field on Etna. Bull Volcanol 72:641–656. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Behncke B, Neri M (2003) The July--August 2001 eruption of Mt. Etna (Sicily). Bull Volcanol 65:461–476. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bilotta G, Hérault A, Cappello A, Ganci G, Del Negro C (2016) GPUSPH: a smoothed particle hydrodynamics model for the thermal and rheological evolution of lava flows. Geol Soc Lond, Spec Publ 426(1):387–408CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Busby CJ, DeOreo SB, Skilling I, Gans PB, Hagan JC (2008) Carson Pass-Kirkwood paleocanyon system: paleogeography of the ancestral cascades arc and implications for landscape evolution of the Sierra Nevada (California). Geol Soc Am Bull 120(3/4):274–299CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Cappello A, Hérault A, Bilotta G, Ganci G, Del Negro C (2016) MAGFLOW: a physics-based model for the dynamics of lava-flow emplacement. Geol Soc Lond, Spec Publ 426(1):357–373CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Cashman KV, Thornber C, Kauahikaua JP (1999) Cooling and crystallization of lava in open channels, and the transition of Pāhoehoe lava to ’A’ā. Bull Volcanol 61:306–323. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Cashman KV, Soule SA, Mackey BH, Deligne NI, Deardorff ND, Dietterich HR (2013) How lava flows: new insights from applications of lidar technologies to lava flow studies. Geosphere 9:1664–1680. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Chevrel MO, Labroquère J, Harris AJ, Rowland SK (2018) PyFLOWGO: an open-source platform for simulation of channelized lava thermo-rheological properties. Comput Geosci 111:167–180CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Coltelli M, Proietti C, Branca S et al (2007) Analysis of the 2001 lava flow eruption of Mt. Etna from three-dimensional mapping. J Geophys Res 112:F02029. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Cordonnier BJR, Lev E, Garel F. (2014), "BENCHMARKING LAVA FLOWS -BM5 - ETNA 2001,"
  11. Cordonnier B, Lev E, Garel F (2016) Benchmarking lava-flow models. Geol Soc Lond Spec Publ 426:425–445. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Crisci GM, Rongo R, Di Gregorio S, Spataro W (2004) The simulation model SCIARA: the 1991 and 2001 lava flows at Mount Etna. J Volcanol Geotherm Res 132(2–3):253–267CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Crisp J, Cashman KV, Bonini JA, Hougen SB, & Pieri DC. 1994. Crystallization history of the 1984 Mauna Loa lava flow. Journal of Geophysical Research, B99, 7177–7198.Google Scholar
  14. Crozier J, Karlstrom L, Yang K (2018) Basal control of supraglacial meltwater catchments on the Greenland Ice Sheet. Cryosphere 12:3383–3407CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. de' Michiele Vitturi M, Tarquini S (2018) MrLavaLoba: a new probabilistic model for the simulation of lava flow as a settling process. J Volcanol Geotherm Res 349:323–334CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Deardorff ND, Cashman KV (2012) Emplacement conditions of the c. 1,600-year bp collier cone lava flow, Oregon: a LiDAR investigation. Bull Volcanol 74:2051–2066. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Del Negro C, Fortuna L, Herault A, Vicari A (2008) Simulations of the 2004 lava flow at Etna volcano using the magflow cellular automata model. Bull Volcanol 70(7):805–812CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Deligne NI, Cashman KV, Roering JJ (2013) After the lava flow: the importance of external soil sources for plant colonization of recent lava flows in the Central Oregon cascades, USA. Geomorphology 202:15–32. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Dietterich HR, Cashman KV (2014) Channel networks within lava flows: formation, evolution, and implications for flow behavior. J Geophys Res Earth Surf 119:1704–1724. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Dietterich HR, Soule SA, Cashman KV, Mackey BH (2015) Lava flows in 3D: using airborne lidar and preeruptive topography to evaluate lava flow surface morphology and thickness in Hawai‘i. In: Hawaiian Volcanoes: from source to surface, geophysical monograph 208. Wiley, pp 483–505Google Scholar
  21. Dietterich HR, Lev E, Chen J, Richardson JA, Cashman KV (2017) Benchmarking computational fluid dynamics models of lava flow simulation for hazard assessment, forecasting, and risk management. J Appl Volcanol 6:9. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Dietterich HR, Patrick M, Diefenbach A, Parcheta C, Lev E, Foks N (2018) Lava flow hazard modeling and the assessment of effusion rates and topographic change with UAS and lidar during the 2018 Kilauea lower East Rift Zone eruption, American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting Abstracts V21B-03Google Scholar
  23. Favalli M, Pareschi MT, Neri A, Isola I (2005) Forecasting lava flow paths by a stochastic approach. Geophys Res Lett 32:L03305. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Favalli M, Chirico GD, Papale P, Pareschi MT, Boschi E (2009) Lava flow hazard at Nyiragongo volcano, D.R.C. Bull Volcanol 71(4):363–374CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Favalli M, Targuini S, Fornaciai A, Boschi E (2012) Dispersion index of topographic surfaces. Geomorphology 153-153:169–178CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Ferrier KL, Huppert KL, Perron JT (2013a) Climatic control of bedrock river incision. Nature 496:206–209. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Ferrier KL, Perron JT, Mukhopadhyay S, Rosener JD, Stock JD, Hupper KL (2013b) Covariation of climate and long-term erosion rates across a steep rainfall gradient on the Hawaiian island of Kaua’i. Geol Soc Am Bull 125:1146–1163. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Freeman TH (1991) Calculating catchment area with a divergent flow based on a regular grid. Comput Geosci 17:413–422. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Griffiths RW (2000) The dynamics of lava flows. Annu Rev Fluid Mech 32:477–518. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Guest JE, Kilburn CRJ, Pinkerton H, Duncan AM (1987) The evolution of lava flow-fields: observations of the 1981 and 1983 eruptions of Mount Etna, Sicily. Bull Volcanol 49:527–540. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Harris AJL (2013) Lava flows. In: Lava flows. Modeling volcanic processes: the physics and mathematics of volcanism. Cambridge University Press, New York, pp 85–106CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Harris AJ, Rowland S (2001) FLOWGO: a kinematic thermo-rheological model for lava flowing in a channel. Bull Volcanol 63:20–44. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Harris, AJL, Rowland SK (2009) Effusion rate controls on lava flow length and the role of heat loss: a review. Studies in volcanology: the legacy of George Walker. Special publications of IAVCEI, 2 :33–51Google Scholar
  34. Harris AJL, Favalli M, Wright R, Garbeil H (2011) Hazard assessment at Mount Etna using a hybrid lava flow inundation model and satellite-based land classification. Nat Hazards 58:1001–1027. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Hon K, Kauahikaua J, Denlinger R, Mackay K (1994) Emplacement and inflation of pahoehoe sheet flows: observations and measurements of active lava flows on Kilauea Volcanon, Hawaii. Bull Geol Soc Am 106(3):351–370CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Huang J, Turcotte DL (1990) Fractal image analysis: application to the topography of Oregon and synthetic images. J Opt Soc Am A 7:1124. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Hulme G, (1974) The Interpretation of Lava Flow Morphology. Geophysical Journal International 39(2):361-383CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Ishihara K, Iguchi M, Kamo K (1990) Numerical simulation of lava flows on some volcanoes in Japan. In: Lava flows and domes. Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg, pp 174–207CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Karlstrom L, Richardson PW, O’Hara D, Ebmeier SK (2018) Magmatic landscape construction. J Geophys Res Earth Surf 123. Google Scholar
  40. Katz MG, Cashman KV (2003) Hawaiian lava flows in the third dimension: identification and interpretation of pahoehoe and ′a′a distribution in the KP-1 and SOH-4 cores. Geochem Geophys Geosyst 4.
  41. Kauahikaua J, and the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory staff (2016) The 2014 annual report for the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory. U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2016-5059, 65 p.
  42. Kerr RC, Griffiths RW, Cashman KV (2006) Formation of channelized lava flows on an unconfined slope. J Geophys Res 111:B10206. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Kilburn CRJ (1981) Pahoehoe and aa lavas: a discussion and continuation of the model of Peterson and Tilling. J Volcanol Geotherm Res 11:373–382. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Kolzenburg S, Giordano D, Cimarelli C, Dingwell DB (2016) In situ thermal characterization of cooling/crystallizing lavas during rheology measurements and implications for lava flow emplacement. Geochim Cosmochim Acta 195:244–258. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Kubanek J, Richardson JA, Charbonnier SJ, Connor LJ (2015) Lava flow mapping and volume calculations for the 2012–2013 Tolbachik, Kamchatka, fissure eruption using bistatic TanDEM-X InSAR. Bull Volcanol 77:106. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Levandowsky M, Winter D (1971) Distance between Sets. Nature 234:34–35. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Lipman PW, Banks NG (1987) A'a flow dynamics, Mauna Loa, 1984. US Geol Surv Prof Pap 1350:1527–1567Google Scholar
  48. Lohse KA, Dietrich WE (2005) Contrasting effects of soil development on hydrological properties and flow paths. Water Resour Res 41.
  49. Mossoux S, Saey M, Bartolini S, Poppe S, Canters F, Kervyn M (2016) Q-LAVHA: a flexible GIS plugin to simulate lava flows. Comput Geosci 97:98–109CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Murphy BP, Johnson JPL, Gasparini NM, Sklar LS (2016) Chemical weathering as a mechanism for the climatic control of bedrock river incision. Nature 532:223–227. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. O'Hara D, Karlstrom L, Roering JJ (2019) Distributed landscape response to localized uplift and the fragility of steady states. Earth Planet Sci Lett 506:243–254CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Patrick MR, Kauahikaua J, Orr T, Davies A, Ramsey M (2016) Operational thermal remote sensing and lava flow monitoring at the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory. Geol Soc Lond Spec Publ 426:489–503. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Perron JT, Kirchner JW, Dietrich WE (2008) Spectral signatures of characteristic spatial scales and nonfractal structure in landscapes. J Geophys Res 113:F04003. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Peterson DW, Tilling RI (1980) Transition of basaltic lava from pahoehoe to aa, Kilauea Volcano, Hawaii: field observations and key factors. J Volcanol Geotherm Res 7(3–4):271–293CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Pieri DC, Baloga SM (1986) Eruption rate, area, and length relationships for some Hawaiian lava flows. J Volcanol Geotherm Res 30:29–45. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Pinkerton H, Wilson L (1994) Factors controlling the lengths of channel-fed lava flows. Bull Volcanol 56:108–120. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Poland MP (2014) Time-averaged discharge rate of subaerial lava at Kīlauea Volcano, Hawai‘i, measured from TanDEM-X interferometry: implications for magma supply and storage during 2011-2013. J Geophys Res Solid Earth 119:5464–5481. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Poland MP, Orr TR, Kauahikaua JP, Brantley SR, Babb JL, Patrick MR, Neal C, Anderson KR, Antolik L, Burgess MK, Elias T, Fuke S, Fukunaga P, Johanson I, Kagimoto M, Kamibayashi KP, Lee L, Miklius A, Million W, Moniz CJ, Okubo PG, Sutton A, Takahashi TJ, Thelen WA, Tollett W, Trusdell FA (2016) The 2014–2015 Pāhoa lava flow crisis at Kīlauea Volcano, Hawai’i: disaster avoided and lessons learned. GSA Today:4–10.
  59. Press WH, Teukolsky SA, Vetterling WT, Flannery BP (2007) Numerical recipes: the art of scientific computing, 3rd edn. Cambridge University Press ISBN-13:9780521880688Google Scholar
  60. Quinn P, Beven K, Chevallier P, Planchon O (1991) The prediction of hillslope flow paths for distributed hydrological modelling using digital terrain models. Hydrol Process 5(1):59–79. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Richter N, Favalli M, de Zeeuw-Van Dalfsen E, Fornaciai A, da Silva Fernandes RM, Pérez NM, Levy J, Victória SS, Walter TR (2016) Lava flow hazard at Fogo Volcano, Cabo Verde, before and after the 2014–2015 eruption. Hazards Earth Syst Sci 16:1925–1951. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Riker JM, Cashman KV, Kauahikaua JP, Montierth CM (2009) The length of channelized lava flows: insight from the 1859 eruption of Mauna Loa Volcano, Hawai‘i. J Volcanol Geotherm Res 183:139–156. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Robertson JC, Kerr RC (2012) Solidification dynamics in channeled viscoplastic lava flows. J Geophys Res 117:B07206Google Scholar
  64. Roering JJ, Mackey BH, Marshall JA, Sweeney KE, Deligne NI, Booth AM, Handwerger AL, Cerovski-Darriau C (2013) ‘You are HERE’: connecting the dots with airborne lidar for geomorphic fieldwork. Geomorphology 200:172–183. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Rumpf ME, Lev E, Wysocki R (2018) The influence of topographic roughness on lava flow emplacement. Bull Volcanol 80:63CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Schwanghart W, Kuhn NJ (2010) TopoToolbox: a set of Matlab functions for topographic analysis. Environ Model Softw 25:770–781. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Sherrod DR, Sinton, JM, Watkins, SE Brunt, KM (2007) Geologic map of the state of Hawai ‘i: US Geological Survey Open-File Report 2007–1089. Available online at URL:
  68. Simons FJ (2009) Slepian functions and their use in signal estimation and spectral analysis. In: Freeden W, Nashad MZ, Sonar T (eds) Handbook of geomathematics. Springer, Berlin, pp 891–923Google Scholar
  69. Slezin YB (2008) Two types of lava fields and the mechanism of their generation. J Volcanol Seismol 2:340–346. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Soldati A, Sehlke A, Chigna G, Whittington A (2016) Field and experimental constraints on the rheology of arc basaltic lavas: the January 2014 Eruption of Pacaya (Guatemala). Bull Volcanol 78:43. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Soule SA, Cashman KV, Kauahikaua JP (2004) Examining flow emplacement through the surface morphology of three rapidly emplaced, solidified lava flows, Kilauea Volcano, Hawai’i. Bull Volcanol 66:1–14. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Tarboton DG (1997) A new method for the determination of flow directions and upslope areas in grid digital elevation models. Water Resour Res 33:309–319. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Tarquini S, Favalli M (2011) Mapping and DOWNFLOW simulation of recent lava flow fields at Mount Etna. J Volcanol Geotherm Res 204:27–39. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Trusdell FA, Wolfe EW, Morris J (2005) Digital database of the geologic map of the island of Hawai'i. DS 144. US Geological Survey, Reston, VAGoogle Scholar
  75. Vicari A, Alexis H, Del Negro C, Coltelli M, Marsella M, Proietti C (2007) Modeling of the 2001 lava flow at Etna volcano by a cellular automata approach. Environ Model Softw 22:1465–1471. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Wadge G, Young PAV, McKendrick IJ (1994) Mapping lava flow hazards using computer simulation. J Geophys Res Solid Earth 99(B1):489–504CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Walker GPL (1971) Compound and simple lava flows and flood basalts. Bull Volcanol 35(3):579–590CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. Walker GPL (1973) Mount Etna and the 1971 eruption - lengths of lava flows. Philos Trans R Soc Lond A 274:107–118. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  79. Wegmann KW, Zurek BD, Regalla CA, Bilardello D, Wollenberg JL, Kopczynski SE, Ziemann JM, Haight SL, Apgar JD, Zhao C, Pazzaglia FJ (2007) Position of the Snake River watershed divide as an indicator of geodynamic processes in the greater Yellowstone region, western North America. Geosphere 3:272. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. Whiting PJ, Moog DB (2001) The geometric, sedimentologic and hydrologic attributes of spring-dominated channels in volcanic areas. Geomorphology 39:131–149. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  81. Wolfe EW, Neal CA, Banks NG, and Duggan TJ, (1988) Geologic observations and chronology of eruptive events, ch. 1 of Wolfe EW, ed., The Puu Oo eruption of Kilauea Volcano, Hawaii; episodes 1 through 20, Jan 3, 1983, through June 8: U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 1463, p. 1–97.Google Scholar
  82. Young P, Wadge G (1990) FLOWFRONT: simulation of a lava flow. Comput Geosci 16:1171–1191CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© International Association of Volcanology & Chemistry of the Earth's Interior 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Earth SciencesUniversity of OregonEugeneUSA
  2. 2.US Forest Service Pacific Southwest Research StationRedwood Sciences LaboratoryArcataUSA

Personalised recommendations