Observations on basaltic lava streams in tubes from Kilauea Volcano, island of Hawai'i

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Journal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth


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From 1986 to 1997, the Pu'u 'O'o-Kupaianaha eruption of Kilauea produced a vast pahoehoe flow field fed by lava tubes that extended 10–12 km from vents on the volcano's east rift zone to the ocean. Within a kilometer of the vent, tubes were as much as 20 m high and 10–25 m wide. On steep slopes (4–10°) a little farther away from the vent, some tubes formed by roofing over of lava channels. Lava streams were typically 1–2 m deep flowing within a tube that here was typically 5 m high and 3 m wide. On the coastal plain (<1°), tubes within inflated sheet flows were completely filled, typically 1–2 m high, and several tens of meters wide. Tubes develop as a flow's crust grows on the top, bottom, and sides of the tubes, restricting the size of the fluid core. The tubes start out with nearly elliptical cross-sectional shapes, many times wider than high. Broad, flat sheet flows evolve into elongate tumuli with an axial crack as the flanks of the original flow were progressively buried by breakouts. Temperature measurements and the presence of stalactites in active tubes confirmed that the tube walls were above the solidus and subject to melting. Sometimes, the tubes began downcutting. Progressive downcutting was frequently observed through skylights; a rate of 10 cm/d was measured at one skylight for nearly 2 months.

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