Lava lakes are found at basaltic volcanoes on Earth and other planetary bodies. Density-driven crustal foundering leading to surface renewal occurs repeatedly throughout the life of a lava lake. This process has been observed and described in a qualitative sense, but due to dangerous conditions, no data has been acquired to evaluate the densities of the units involved. Kilauea Iki pit crater in Hawai'i houses a lava lake erupted during a 2 month period in 1959. Part of the surface of the Kilauea Iki lake now preserves the frozen record of a final, incomplete, crustal-overturn cycle. We mapped this region and sampled portions of the foundering crust, as well as overriding and underlying lava, to constrain the density of the units involved in the overturn process. Overturn is driven by the advance of a flow front of fresh, low-density lava over an older, higher density surface crust. The advance of the front causes the older crust to break up, founder, and dive downwards into the lake to expose new, hot, low-density lava. We find density differences of 200 to 740 kg/m3 between the foundering crust and over-riding and under-lying lava respectively. In this case, crustal overturn is driven by large density differences between the foundering and resurfacing units. These differences lead, inevitably, to frequent crustal renewal: simple density differences between the surface crust and underlying lake lava make the upper layers of the lake highly unstable. ?? Springer-Verlag 2008.
Additional publication details
A frozen record of density-driven crustal overturn in lava lakes: The example of Kilauea Iki 1959