Lava Flow Interactions with Topographic Obstacles: Morphologic Analysis, Analogue Modeling, and Molten Basalt Experiments

Monday, 15 December 2014
Hannah R Dietterich, University of Oregon, Eugene, OR, United States, Katharine V Cashman, University of Bristol, School of Earth Sciences, Bristol, United Kingdom, Alison Rust, University of Bristol, Bristol, United Kingdom, Einat Lev, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observato, New York, NY, United States and James T. Dietrich, Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH, United States
Underlying topography controls lava flow emplacement by influencing flow paths, lengths, and advance rates. The morphology of the pre-eruptive surface provides input into lava flow models and the design of artificial diversion barriers, although the dynamics of interactions between topographic obstacles and lava flows are not well known. We investigate these factors by combining morphologic analysis of Hawaiian lava flows with scaling derived from analogue and molten basalt experiments. A comparison of pre- and post-eruptive topographic data shows that flows thicken on the upslope side of topographic barriers, a feature that has been employed to calculate flow velocities from simple energy conversion. Observations also document effects of flow branching and confinement on flow advance rate, with confined flows in Hawai‘i traveling further and faster than those that branch. To explain these observations we perform laboratory experiments using Newtonian and Bingham analogue fluids, as well as molten basalt. Conditions of flow splitting and subsequent advance are defined using experiments with both V-shaped and cylindrical obstacles that divide an unconfined flow. Oblique linear obstacles are used to explore flow confinement and diversion. We find that the degree of thickening, which determines the height of an obstacle capable of holding back the flow, is controlled by both initial flow velocity and obstacle geometry. Key is the ability of the flow to pass around the obstacle, such that larger and wider obstacles cause greater thickening than smaller and narrower obstacles. Flow advance rate is largely unaffected by branching in the Newtonian analogue experiments, but decreases after splitting in the molten basalt experiments because of surface cooling. Interestingly, flows into oblique obstacles are diverted but travel faster. Together these data provide the basis for a theoretical description of the interaction dynamics of viscous (and cooling) lava flows with topographic obstacles. These results allow quantification of the effects of flow branching and diversion on subsequent flow advance, which is essential for both predicting and mitigating the effects of future lava flows.