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Petrologic insights into basaltic volcanism at historically active Hawaiian volcanoes

January 1, 2014

Study of the petrology of Hawaiian volcanoes, in particular the historically active volcanoes on the Island of Hawai‘i, has long been of worldwide scientific interest. When Dr. Thomas A. Jaggar, Jr., established the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory (HVO) in 1912, detailed observations on basaltic activity at Kīlauea and Mauna Loa volcanoes increased dramatically. The period from 1912 to 1958 saw a gradual increase in the collection and analysis of samples from the historical eruptions of Kīlauea and Mauna Loa and development of the concepts needed to evaluate them. In a classic 1955 paper, Howard Powers introduced the concepts of magnesia variation diagrams, to display basaltic compositions, and olivine-control lines, to distinguish between possibly comagmatic and clearly distinct basaltic lineages. In particular, he and others recognized that Kīlauea and Mauna Loa basalts must have different sources.

Subsequent years saw a great increase in petrologic data, as the development of the electron microprobe made it possible to routinely monitor glass and mineral compositions, in addition to bulk rock compositions. We now have 100 years’ worth of glass compositions for Kīlauea summit eruptions, which, together with expanding databases on prehistoric tephras, provide important constraints on the nature of Kīlauea’s summit reservoir. A series of chemically distinctive eruptions in the 1950s and 1960s facilitated evaluation of magma mixing and transport processes at Kīlauea. At Mauna Loa, lava compositions are distinctive only at the trace element level, suggesting that its summit reservoir is better mixed than Kīlauea’s. Most summit lavas at both volcanoes, however, lie on olivine control lines having the same olivine composition (Fo86–87). Study of the ongoing East Rift Zone eruption at Kīlauea has further illuminated the complexity of magma storage, resupply, and mixing along this very active rift zone.

Studies of active and closed-system lava lakes have been part of HVO’s efforts since Jaggar’s unique descriptions of the Halema‘uma‘u lava lake that existed before 1924. Detailed study of closed-system bodies, including the 1959 Kīlauea Iki, 1963 ‘Alae, and 1965 and prehistoric Makaopuhi lava lakes and the Uēkahuna laccolith, have allowed recognition and quantification of processes of basalt differentiation. Specific topics reviewed herein include the occurrence of segregation veins and related structures, overall cooling history, and patterns of crystallization and reequilibration of olivine in various lava lakes.

In recent decades, study of the submarine slopes of the Island of Hawai‘i and of Lō‘ihi Seamount has revolutionized our understanding of the early history of Hawaiian volcanoes. Observations of Lō‘ihi lavas first established the existence of an early alkalic stage in the evolution of Hawaiian volcanoes. Stages of volcanic development from inception to tholeiitic shield building can be observed in Kīlauea’s submarine and subaerial sections. One distinctive feature of submarine volcanics at Kīlauea, Mauna Loa, and Hualālai is that picritic lavas are more abundant than in subaerial eruptions. Also, olivine compositions of submarine lavas are more magnesian, ranging from Fo88 at Kīlauea to Fo89 at Hualālai. The most magnesian glasses known from Kīlauea (MgO=14.7–15.0 weight percent) were found along the submarine part of Kīlauea’s East Rift Zone.

Contributions to our knowledge of the nature of the mantle source(s) of Hawaiian basalts are reviewed briefly, although this is a topic where debate is ongoing. Finally, our accumulated petrologic observations impose constraints on the nature of the summit reservoirs at Kīlauea and Mauna Loa, specifically whether the summit chamber has been continuous or segmented during past decades.

Publication Year 2014
Title Petrologic insights into basaltic volcanism at historically active Hawaiian volcanoes
DOI 10.3133/pp18016
Authors Rosalind T. Helz, David A. Clague, Thomas W. Sisson, Carl R. Thornber
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Professional Paper
Series Number 1801
Index ID pp18016
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Volcano Hazards Program; Volcano Science Center