Bulletin of Volcanology

, Volume 74, Issue 2, pp 457–482 | Cite as

Scales of columnar jointing in igneous rocks: field measurements and controlling factors

  • György HetényiEmail author
  • Benoît Taisne
  • Fanny Garel
  • Étienne Médard
  • Sonja Bosshard
  • Hannes B. Mattsson
Research Article


Columnar jointing is a common feature of solidified lavas, sills and dikes, but the factors controlling the characteristic stoutness of columns remain debated, and quantitative field observations are few in number. In this paper, we provide quantitative measurements on sizing of columnar joint sets and our assessment of the principal factors controlling it. We focus on (1) chemistry, as it is the major determinant of the physical (mechanical and thermal) properties of the lava, and (2) geology, as it influences the style of emplacement and lava geometry, setting boundary conditions for the cooling process and the rate of heat loss. In our analysis, we cover lavas with a broad range of chemical compositions (from basanite to phonolite, for six of which we provide new geochemical analyses) and of geological settings. Our field measurements cover 50 columnar jointing sites in three countries. We provide reliable, manually digitized data on the size of individual columns and focus the mathematical analysis on their geometry (23,889 data on side length, of which 17,312 are from full column sections and 3,033 data on cross-sectional area and order of polygonality). The geometrical observations show that the variation in characteristic size of columns between different sites exceeds one order of magnitude (side length ranging from 8 to 338 cm) and that the column-bounding polygons’ average order is less than 6. The network of fractures is found to be longer than required by a minimum-energy hexagonal configuration, indicating a non-equilibrium, geologically quick process. In terms of the development and characteristic sizing of columnar joint sets, our observations suggest that columns are the result of an interplay between the geological setting of emplacement and magma chemistry. When the geological setting constrains the geometry of the emplaced body, it exerts a stronger control on characteristic column stoutness. At unconstrained geometries (e.g. unconfined lava flows), chemistry plays the major role, resulting in stouter columns in felsic lavas and slenderer columns in mafic lavas.


Columnar jointing Factors influencing column size Column size measurements Chemical composition Geological setting Geometry of the emplacement Cooling rate 



We greatly thank the reviewer Károly Németh and the editor James White for their constructive comments and support; the manuscript has much benefited from their reviews. We acknowledge Dan Morgan, Csaba Szabó and Anita Grunder for interesting discussions and inputs. We thank Klára Kóthay for providing major-element composition data from her Ph.D. before publication. We greatly thank Sándor Takács (Szilváskő) and Károly Kuris (Uzsa) for their guidance and their hospitality, as well as József Medve (Szanda), István Perger (Haláp, Hajagos) and the Balaton Uplands National Park (Hegyestű) for providing access to and information on different sites. We also thank Béla Runtág, Paul and Marie-Thérèse Médard, Jurij Ponomarenko and the Department of Geophysics at Eötvös University Budapest for their practical help. We finally thank Lydia Zehnder for her assistance and help in performing XRF analyses and Thomas Good for his help in sample preparation. The fieldwork in France and Hungary was supported by the William B. and Elizabeth Behr Agocs Geophysical Research Fund Award of G.H.

Supplementary material

445_2011_534_MOESM1_ESM.kmz (3 kb)
Geographical location of columnar jointing sites (in Google Earth format). (KMZ 2.86 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • György Hetényi
    • 1
    Email author
  • Benoît Taisne
    • 2
  • Fanny Garel
    • 2
  • Étienne Médard
    • 3
    • 4
    • 5
  • Sonja Bosshard
    • 1
  • Hannes B. Mattsson
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Earth SciencesETH ZürichZurichSwitzerland
  2. 2.Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris, Sorbonne Paris CitéUniversité Paris Diderot, CNRS UMR 7154Paris cedex 5France
  3. 3.Laboratoire Magma et VolcansClermont Université, Université Blaise PascalClermont-FerrandFrance
  4. 4.CNRS, UMR 6524, LMVClermont-FerrandFrance
  5. 5.IRD, R 163, LMVClermont-FerrandFrance

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