The spectrum of persistent volcanic flank instability: A review and proposed framework based on Kīlauea, Piton de la Fournaise, and Etna

Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research
By: , and 



Persistent motion of the south flank of Kīlauea Volcano, Hawai'i, has been known for several decades, but has only recently been identified at other large basaltic volcanoes—namely Piton de la Fournaise (La Réunion) and Etna (Sicily)—thanks to the advent of space geodetic techniques. Nevertheless, understanding of long-term flank instability is based largely on the example of Kīlauea, despite the large differences in the manifestations and mechanisms of the process when viewed through a comparative lens. For example, the rate of flank motion at Kīlauea is several times that of Etna and Piton de la Fournaise and is accommodated on a slip plane several km deeper than is probably present at the other two volcanoes. Gravitational spreading also appears to be the dominant driving force at Kīlauea, given the long-term steady motion of the volcano's south flank regardless of eruptive/intrusive activity, whereas magmatic activity plays a larger role in flank deformation at Etna and Piton de la Fournaise. Kīlauea and Etna, however, are both characterized by heavily faulted flanks, while Piton de la Fournaise shows little evidence for flank faulting. A helpful means of understanding the spectrum of persistent flank motion at large basaltic edifices may be through a framework defined on one hand by magmatic activity (which encompasses both magma supply and edifice size), and on the other hand by the structural setting of the volcano (especially the characteristics of the subvolcanic basement or subhorizontal intravolcanic weak zones). A volcano's size and magmatic activity will dictate the extent to which gravitational and magmatic forces can drive motion of an unstable flank (and possibly the level of faulting of that flank), while the volcano's structural setting governs whether or not a plane of weakness exists beneath or within the edifice and can facilitate flank slip. Considering persistent flank instability using this conceptual model is an alternative to using a single volcano as a “type example”—especially given that the example is usually Kīlauea, which defines an extreme end of the spectrum—and can provide a basis for understanding why flank motion may or may not exist on other large basaltic volcanoes worldwide.

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Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title The spectrum of persistent volcanic flank instability: A review and proposed framework based on Kīlauea, Piton de la Fournaise, and Etna
Series title Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research
DOI 10.1016/j.jvolgeores.2017.05.004
Volume 339
Year Published 2017
Language English
Publisher Elsevier
Contributing office(s) Volcano Science Center
Description 18 p.
First page 63
Last page 80
Country France, Italy, United States
Other Geospatial Etna, Kīlauea Volcano, Piton de la Fournaise