Evaluation of Lava Tube Formation Mechanisms Using Three-Dimensional Mapping, and Viscosity Modeling: Lava Beds National Monument, California.

Monday, 15 December 2014
John Dedecker, Colorado School of Mines, Golden, CO, United States and Michael Gant, Missouri State University, Geological Sciences, Springfield, MO, United States
This study explores the relationships between lava tube morphology, lava effusion rate estimates, and the mechanism of lava tube formation. Effusion rate estimates for extinct lava tubes were calculated using a combination of three-dimensional mapping of lava tube caves, and viscosity models utilizing whole-rock compositions (Giordano et al., 2008, Earth Planet. Sci. Lett.), and petrographic data (Harris and Allen, 2008, J. Geophys. Res.). The mechanism of lava tube formation was evaluated using measured tube lengths and effusion rate estimates and comparing these data with observations from Hawaiian channel- and tube-fed flows (Pinkerton and Wilson, 1994, J. Volcanol. Geoth. Res.).

Three-dimensional map data for lava tube caves were collected using a laser rangefinder to measure the cross-sectional shape and down-tube distance, and a tandem compass/inclinometer to measure the azimuth and inclination between survey stations in the tube. Total tube length consists of the mapped tube length plus the distance between collapse pits and trenches along the trend of the tube.

Effusion rates were estimated using the Hagen-Poiseuille equation, measured mean cross-sectional radii and slope of lava tubes, and estimated effective viscosities of rock samples collected from mapped tubes at temperatures between 1080-1160 °C and water contents of 0-1 wt.%. A lava density of 1560 g/cm3was used for 0.40 vesicle fraction basalt.

There is a positive correlation between measured tube lengths and cross-sectional radii (Fig. 1). We propose that this relationship reflects the positive correlation between flow lengths and effusion rates in active Hawaiian channel-fed flows. Measured tube lengths vs. effusion rate estimates were compared with data for Hawaiian channel-fed flows (Fig. 2). The two data sets overlap and have parallel trends. These results suggest that the lava tube caves studied formed by the roofing-over of channel-fed flows or had segments of channel-fed flow.

We propose that the lengths and mean cross-sectional radii of lava tubes can be used to evaluate whether or not extinct lava tubes formed by the roofing-over of channel-fed flows. Length and radius measurements of extra-terrestrial lava tubes could provide insight into their formation mechanism independent of in situ observation and rock sampling.