Insights on lava–ice/snow interactions from large-scale basaltic melt experiments
Quantitative measurements of interactions between lava and ice/snow are critical for improving our knowledge of glaciovolcanic hazards and our ability to use glaciovolcanic deposits for paleoclimate reconstructions. However, such measurements are rare because the eruptions tend to be dangerous and not easily accessible. To address these difficulties, we conducted a series of pilot experiments designed to allow close observation, measurements, and textural documentation of interactions between basaltic melt and ice. Here we report the results of the first experiments, which comprised controlled pours of as much as 300 kg of basaltic melt on top of ice. Our experiments provide new insights on (1) estimates for rates of heat transfer through boundary layers and for ice melting; (2) controls on rates of lava advance over ice/snow; (3) formation of lava bubbles (i.e., Limu o Pele) by steam from vaporization of underlying ice or water; and (4) the role of within-ice discontinuities to facilitate lava migration beneath and within ice. The results of our experiments confirm field observations about the rates at which lava can melt snow/ice, the efficacy with which a boundary layer can slow melting rates, and morphologies and textures indicative of direct lava-ice interaction. They also demonstrate that ingestion of external water by lava can create surface bubbles (i.e., Limu) and large gas cavities. We propose that boundary layer steam can slow heat transfer from lava to ice, and present evidence for rapid isotopic exchange between water vapor and melt. We also suggest new criteria for identifying ice-contact features in terrestrial and martian lava flows.
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