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Textural and rheological evolution of basalt flowing down a lava channel


The Muliwai a Pele lava channel was emplaced during the final stage of Mauna Ulu’s 1969–1974 eruption (Kilauea, Hawaii). The event was fountain-fed and lasted for around 50 h, during which time a channelized flow system developed, in which a 6-km channel fed a zone of dispersed flow that extended a further 2.6 km. The channel was surrounded by initial rubble levees of ’a’a, capped by overflow units of limited extent. We sampled the uppermost overflow unit every 250 m down the entire channel length, collecting, and analyzing 27 air-quenched samples. Bulk chemistry, density and textural analyses were carried out on the sample interior, and glass chemistry and microlite crystallization analyses were completed on the quenched crust. Thermal and rheological parameters (cooling, crystallization rate, viscosity, and yield strength) were also calculated. Results show that all parameters experience a change around 4.5 km from the vent. At this point, there is a lava surface transition from pahoehoe to ’a’a. Lava density, microlite content, viscosity, and yield strength all increase down channel, but vesicle content and lava temperature decrease. Cooling rates were 6.7 °C/km, with crystallization rates increasing from 0.03 Фc/km proximally, to 0.14 Фc/km distally. Modeling of the channel was carried out using the FLOWGO thermo-rheological model and allowed fits for temperature, microlite content, and channel width when run using a three-phase viscosity model based on a temperature-dependent viscosity relation derived for this lava. The down flow velocity profile suggests an initial velocity of 27 m/s, declining to 1 m/s at the end of the channel. Down-channel, lava underwent cooling that induced crystallization, causing both the lava viscosity and yield strength to increase. Moreover, lava underwent degassing and a subsequent vesicularity decrease. This aided in increasing viscosity, with the subsequent increase in shearing promoting a transition to ’a’a.

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AW and AS were supported by NSF grant EAR-1220051 and NASA grant NNX12AO44G. We thank the National Park Service for granting us a research and sampling permit. This is Laboratory of Excellence CLERVOLC contribution 97.

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Correspondence to Andrew Harris.

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Editorial responsibility: S. Calvari

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Appendix 1

Sample descriptions and characteristics (SG Smooth Golden, Phh Pahoehoe, trans transition). While sheet flows are extensive smooth surfaced sheets of pahoehoe, lobes are small paohoehoe toes. (DOC 71 kb)

Appendix 2

Major element bulk chemistry data (wt%). Analytical error (2σ) are 0.91 % for SiO2, 1.71 % for Al2O3, 0.37 % for Fe2O3, 1.60 % for MgO, 0.23 % for CaO, 1.41 % for Na2O, 7.93 % for K2O, 3.69 % for TiO2, 1.94 % for MnO, and 2.82 % for P2O5 (DOC 73 kb)

Appendix 3

a) Textural characteristics of each sample (N vcorr is the vesicle number density per volume corrected for vesicularity and crystallinity) (DOC 39 kb)


b) Comparison between overflow samples and their pond (P), spatter (Sp), and tube roof (TR) equivalent samples (JPEG 2648 kb)

Appendix 5

Viscosity data for remelted Mauna Ulu basalt. For high temperature viscosity measurements, at each temperature, three individual measurements with durations of 5 min of stable readings at different angular velocities have been conducted. Around 1230.7 °C, viscosity steadily increases, indicating sufficient undercooling allowing crystallization to occur. For low temperature viscosity measurements, measurements were made on two cylindrical sample cores A and B (DOC 51 kb)

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Robert, B., Harris, A., Gurioli, L. et al. Textural and rheological evolution of basalt flowing down a lava channel. Bull Volcanol 76, 824 (2014).

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  • Lava channel
  • Vesicles
  • Cooling
  • Crystallization
  • Rheology
  • Pahoehoe
  • ’a’a