Formation of submarine flat-topped volcanic cones in Hawai'i
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High-resolution bathymetric mapping has shown that submarine flat-topped volcanic cones, morphologically similar to ones on the deep sea floor and near mid-ocean ridges, are common on or near submarine rift zones of Kilauea, Kohala (or Mauna Kea), Mahukona, and Haleakala volcanoes. Four flat-topped cones on Kohala were explored and sampled with the Pisces V submersible in October 1998. Samples show that flat-topped cones on rift zones are constructed of tholeiitic basalt erupted during the shield stage. Similarly shaped flat-topped cones on the northwest submarine flank of Ni'ihau are apparently formed of alkalic basalt erupted during the rejuvenated stage. Submarine postshield-stage eruptions on Hilo Ridge, Mahukona, Hana Ridge, and offshore Ni'ihau form pointed cones of alkalic basalt and hawaiite. The shield stage flat-topped cones have steep (∼25°) sides, remarkably flat horizontal tops, basal diameters of 1–3 km, and heights <300 m. The flat tops commonly have either a low mound or a deep crater in the center. The rejuvenated-stage flat-topped cones have the same shape with steep sides and flat horizontal tops, but are much larger with basal diameters up to 5.5 km and heights commonly greater than 200 m. The flat tops have a central low mound, shallow crater, or levees that surrounded lava ponds as large as 1 km across. Most of the rejuvenated-stage flat-topped cones formed on slopes <10° and formed adjacent semicircular steps down the flank of Ni'ihau, rather than circular structures. All the flat-topped cones appear to be monogenetic and formed during steady effusive eruptions lasting years to decades. These, and other submarine volcanic cones of similar size and shape, apparently form as continuously overflowing submarine lava ponds. A lava pond surrounded by a levee forms above a sea-floor vent. As lava continues to flow into the pond, the lava flow surface rises and overflows the lowest point on the levee, forming elongate pillow lava flows that simultaneously build the rim outward and upward, but also dam and fill in the low point on the rim. The process repeats at the new lowest point, forming a circular structure with a flat horizontal top and steep pillowed margins. There is a delicate balance between lava (heat) supply to the pond and cooling and thickening of the floating crust. Factors that facilitate construction of such landforms include effusive eruption of lava with low volatile contents, moderate to high confining pressure at moderate to great ocean depth, long-lived steady eruption (years to decades), moderate effusion rates (probably ca. 0.1 km3/year), and low, but not necessarily flat, slopes. With higher effusion rates, sheet flows flood the slope. With lower effusion rates, pillow mounds form. Hawaiian shield-stage eruptions begin as fissure eruptions. If the eruption is too brief, it will not consolidate activity at a point, and fissure-fed flows will form a pond with irregular levees. The pond will solidify between eruptive pulses if the eruption is not steady. Lava that is too volatile rich or that is erupted in too shallow water will produce fragmental and highly vesicular lava that will accumulate to form steep pointed cones, as occurs during the post-shield stage. The steady effusion of lava on land constructs lava shields, which are probably the subaerial analogs to submarine flat-topped cones but formed under different cooling conditions.
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