We sampled basaltic lava flows and underlying dacitic tuff deposits in or near lava tubes of the Cave Basalt, Mount St. Helens, Washington to determine whether the Cave Basalt lavas contain geochemical evidence of substrate contamination by lava erosion. The samples were analyzed using a combination of wavelength-dispersive X-ray fluorescence spectrometry and inductively-coupled plasma mass spectrometry. The results indicate that the oldest, outer lava tube linings in direct contact with the dacitic substrate are contaminated, whereas the younger, inner lava tube linings are uncontaminated and apparently either more evolved or enriched in residual liquid. The most heavily contaminated lavas occur closer to the vent and in steeper parts of the tube system, and the amount of contamination decreases with increasing distance downstream. These results suggest that erosion by lava and contamination were limited to only the initially emplaced flows and that erosion was localized and enhanced by vigorous laminar flow over steeper slopes. After cooling, the initial Cave Basalt lava flows formed an insulating lining within the tubes that prevented further erosion by later flows. This interpretation is consistent with models of lava erosion that predict higher erosion rates closer to sources and over steeper slopes. A greater abundance of xenoliths and xenocrysts relative to xenomelts in hand samples indicates that mechanical erosion rather than thermal erosion was the dominant erosional process in the Cave Basalt, but further sampling and petrographic analyses must be performed to verify this hypothesis.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Geochemistry and Petrology