The role of unsteady effusion rates on inflation in long-lived lava flow fields

E. Rader, L. Vanderkluysen, Amanda Clarke

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

6 Scopus citations

Abstract

The emission of volcanic gases and particles can have global and lasting environmental effects, but their timing, tempo, and duration can be problematic to quantify for ancient eruptions where real-time measurements are absent. Lava flows, for example, may be long-lasting, and their impact is controlled by the rate, tempo, and vigor of effusion. These factors are currently difficult to derive from the geologic record but can have large implications for the atmospheric impact of an eruption. We conducted a set of analogue experiments on lava flow inflation aiming at connecting lava morphologies preserved in the rock record to eruption tempo and dynamics through pulsating effusion rates. Inflation, a process where molten material is injected beneath the crust of an active lava flow and lifts it upwards, is a common phenomenon in basaltic volcanic systems. This mechanism requires three components: a) a coherent, insulating crust; b) a wide-spread molten core; and c) pressure built up beneath the crust from a sustained supply of molten material. Inflation can result in a lava flow growing tens of meters thick, even in flow fields that expand hundreds of square kilometers. It has been documented that rapid effusion rates tend to create channels and tubes, isolating the active part of the flow from the stagnant part, while slow effusion rates may cause crust to form quickly and seize up, forcing lava to overtop the crust. However, the conditions that allow for inflation of large flow fields have not previously been evaluated in terms of effusion rate. By using PEG 600 wax and a programmable pump, we observe how, by pulsating effusion rate, inflation occurs even in very low viscosity basaltic eruptions. We show that observations from inflating Hawaiian lava flows correlate well with experimental data and indicate that instantaneous effusion rates may have been 3 times higher than average effusion rates during the emplacement of the 23 January 1988 flow at Kīlauea (Hawai‘i). The identification of a causal relationship between pulsating effusion rates and inflation may have implications for eruption tempo in the largest inflated flows: flood basalts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)73-83
Number of pages11
JournalEarth and Planetary Science Letters
Volume477
DOIs
StatePublished - Nov 1 2017

Keywords

  • eruption tempo
  • flood basalt
  • inflation
  • large igneous province
  • lava flows
  • lava morphology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science

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