Piggyback tectonics: Long-term growth of Kilauea on the south flank of Mauna Loa

Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research
By: , and 



Compositional and age data from offshore pillow lavas and volcaniclastic sediments, along with on-land geologic, seismic, and deformation data, provide broad perspectives on the early growth of Kilauea Volcano and the long-term geometric evolution of its rift zones. Sulfur-rich glass rinds on pillow lavas and volcaniclastic sediments derived from them document early underwater growth of a large compositionally diverse alkalic edifice. The alkalic rocks yield 40Ar/39Ar ages as old as about 275 ka; transitional-composition lavas, which mark beginning of the shield stage while most or all the edifice remained below sea level, probably first erupted after about 150 ka, and tholeiitic lavas of present-day type are probably younger than 100 ka. Breccia clasts from Papau Seamount and along the lower southwest corner of the Hilina bench are derived from subaerial Mauna Loa, requiring that Mauna Loa's flank underlies western parts of Kilauea at shallow depth. The volume of the Kilauea edifice is therefore smaller (∼10,000 km3) than previous estimates (15–40,000 km3); lava-thickness accumulation rates appear to have remained nearly constant during edifice growth, as effusion rates increased from ∼25×106 m3/yr at end of the alkalic stage to the present-day tholeiite rate of ∼100×106 m3/yr. Seismic and gravity data show that the deep plumbing system for Kilauea's magma supply extends nearly vertically through the oceanic crust at least to mantle depths of 30–35 km, directly below its present-day caldera.

Proximity of Kilauea's caldera to the surface boundary with Mauna Loa and the presence of Mauna Loa rocks at shallow depth beneath the south flank are difficult to reconcile with a submarine origin for early Kilauea alkalic lavas, unless geometric relations between the two volcanoes have changed substantially during growth of the Kilauea shield. Seismic and ground deformation data suggest seaward spreading of the entire south flank of Hawaii Island, independently of the boundary between Kilauea and Mauna Loa, along a landward-dipping detachment fault system near the basal contact of the composite volcanic edifices with underlying oceanic crust. Current steady-state horizontal displacements increase seaward, at rates of ∼1.5 cm/yr on the lower flank of Mauna Loa and reaching 5–8 cm/yr at the Kilauea coastline. Infrequent (∼100 yr?) large earthquakes generate similar geometries, but 102 larger displacements per event.

Present-day Kilauea is the more dynamic edifice, but prior to inception of Kilauea and during its early growth, Mauna Loa is inferred to have undergone intense volcano spreading, involving the Kaoiki–Honuapo fault system (considered a geometric analog of the Hilina system on Kilauea). Cumulative deformation of Mauna Loa's south flank during growth of Kilauea since 200–300 ka is estimated to have involved > 10 km of seaward spreading, displacing the rift zones of Kīlauea while its deep plumbing system and summit magma reservoir remained nearly fixed in space. Kilauea's rift zones, rather than migrating southward with time solely due to dike emplacement preferentially on the mobile seaward side, alternatively are interpreted to have been transported passively southward, “piggyback” style, during shield-stage growth of Kilauea as a blister on the still-mobile south flank of Mauna Loa. Such an evolution of Kilauea accounts for the arcuate geometry of the present-day rift zones, proximity of the summit magma supply to the exposed flank of Mauna Loa, initial submarine growth of the ancestral edifice, and present-day location of Mauna Loa rocks at shallow depth beneath the south flank of Kilauea.

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Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Piggyback tectonics: Long-term growth of Kilauea on the south flank of Mauna Loa
Series title Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research
DOI 10.1016/j.jvolgeores.2005.07.032
Volume 151
Issue 1-3
Year Published 2006
Language English
Publisher Elsevier Science
Contributing office(s) Alaska Science Center, Volcano Hazards Program
Description 36 p.
First page 73
Last page 108
Country United States
State Hawai'i
Online Only (Y/N) N
Additional Online Files (Y/N) N
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