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A Laboratory Investigation into the Effects of Slope on Lava Flow Morphology
Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research (2000)
  • Tracy K.P. Gregg, Arizona State University
  • Jonathan H. Fink, Portland State University
In an attempt to model the effect of slope on the dynamics of lava flow emplacement, four distinct morphologies were repeatedly produced in a series of laboratory simulations where polyethylene glycol (PEG) was extruded at a constant rate beneath cold sucrose solution onto a uniform slope which could be varied from 1° through 60°. The lowest extrusion rates and slopes, and highest cooling rates, produced flows that rapidly crusted over and advanced through bulbous toes, or pillows (similar to subaerial “toey” pahoehoe flows and to submarine pillowed flows). As extrusion rate and slope increased, and cooling rate decreased, pillowed flows gave way to rifted flows (linear zones of liquid wax separated by plates of solid crust, similar to what is observed on the surface of convecting lava lakes), then to folded flows with surface crusts buckled transversely to the flow direction, and, at the highest extrusion rates and slopes, and lowest cooling rates, to leveed flows, which solidified only at their margins. A dimensionless parameter, Ψ, primarily controlled by effusion rate, cooling rate and flow viscosity, quantifies these flow types. Increasing the underlying slope up to 30° allows the liquid wax to advance further before solidifying, with an effect similar to that of increasing the effusion rate. For example, conditions that produce rifted flows on a 10° slope result in folded flows on a 30° slope. For underlying slopes of 40°, however, this trend reverses, slightly owing to increased gravitational forces relative to the strength of the solid wax. Because of its significant influence on heat advection and the disruption of a solid crust, slope must be incorporated into any quantitative attempt to correlate eruption parameters and lava flow morphologies. These experiments and subsequent scaling incorporate key physical parameters of both an extrusion and its environment, allowing their results to be used to interpret lava flow morphologies on land, on the sea floor, and on other planets.
  • Volcanology -- Research,
  • Lava flows,
  • Geologic formations
Publication Date
March, 2000
Publisher Statement
Copyright (2000) Elsevier *At the time of publication Jonathan Fink was affiliated with Arizona State University
Citation Information
Tracy K.P. Gregg and Jonathan H. Fink. "A Laboratory Investigation into the Effects of Slope on Lava Flow Morphology" Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research Vol. 96 Iss. 3-4 (2000)
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