Bulletin of Volcanology

, 71:767 | Cite as

Features of lava lake filling and draining and their implications for eruption dynamics

  • W. K. StovallEmail author
  • Bruce F. Houghton
  • Andrew J. L. Harris
  • Donald A. Swanson
Research Article


Lava lakes experience filling, circulation, and often drainage depending upon the style of activity and location of the vent. Features formed by these processes have proved difficult to document due to dangerous conditions during the eruption, inaccessibility, and destruction of features during lake drainage. Kīlauea Iki lava lake, Kīlauea, Hawai‘i, preserves many such features, because lava ponded in a pre-existing crater adjacent to the vent and eventually filled to the level of, and interacted with, the vent and lava fountains. During repeated episodes, a cyclic pattern of lake filling to above vent level, followed by draining back to vent level, preserved features associated with both filling and draining. Field investigations permit us to describe the characteristic features associated with lava lakes on length scales ranging from centimeters to hundreds of meters in a fashion analogous to descriptions of lava flows. Multiple vertical rinds of lava coating the lake walls formed during filling as the lake deepened and lava solidified against vertical faces. Drainage of the lake resulted in uneven formation of roughly horizontal lava shelves on the lakeward edge of the vertical rinds; the shelves correlate with stable, staggered lake stands. Shelves either formed as broken relict slabs of lake crust that solidified in contact with the wall or by accumulation, accretion, and widening at the lake surface in a dynamic lateral flow regime. Thin, upper lava shelves reflect an initially dynamic environment, in which rapid lake lowering was replaced by slower and more staggered drainage with the formation of thicker, more laterally continuous shelves. At all lava lakes experiencing stages of filling and draining these processes may occur and result in the formation of similar sets of features.


Lava lake Kīlauea Hawai‘i Filling Draining Lava shelves Vertical rinds 



We thank Andrea M. Steffke and C. Ian Schipper for their help with field work and sample collection. Thoughtful and very helpful comments were provided by Fred Witham, Rosalind T. Helz and Michael A. Clynne as well as Julia E. Hammer and Sarah A. Fagents. This research was sponsored by NSF grant EAR-0709303.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • W. K. Stovall
    • 1
    Email author
  • Bruce F. Houghton
    • 1
  • Andrew J. L. Harris
    • 2
  • Donald 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 ObservatoryU.S. Geological SurveyHonoluluUSA

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