CAREER: Investigating the Impact of Temporal and Spatial Variations on Lava Emplacement Through Numerical and Physical Models

Lead PI: Einat Lev

Unit Affiliation: Seismology, Geology and Tectonophysics, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory (LDEO)

April 2017 - March 2022
Project Type: Research

DESCRIPTION: Effusive volcanic eruptions, such as those observed in Hawaii, are the primary mechanism for emplacing magma at the surface of terrestrial planets and moons to create new land. Lava flows and domes hold key information about planetary evolution. On Earth, the products of effusive eruptions - lava flows and domes - present a serious natural hazard to nearby populations. Thus, understanding what controls lava emplacement is crucial to mitigation of those hazards not only for humans but also to livestock and crops. This CAREER project aims to improve scientific understanding of effusive volcanic eruptions, that is, eruptions that produce lava flows and domes. Specifically, the project examines and quantifies the influence of temporal in lava effusion, and spatial variations in the environment onto which the lava is emplaced, on flow emplacement and stability. The project uses a combination of new numerical models and fluid mechanics experiments. The project team includes an early-career female principal investigator, a graduate student, and high-school students and teachers from underrepresented groups in the geosciences.

Field data from recent eruptions, made possible by advances in observations techniques, have challenged existing models of lava emplacement. Observations suggest an important influence of temporal variations in lava effusion and of spatial variations in pre-existing environment on the evolution and final structure of lava flows and the stability of domes. The main tools this project will employ are numerical models and fluid mechanics experiments using liquids analogous to natural lavas. The numerical models will be designed to accommodate temporal and spatial variability in lava emplacement. The codes will be open-source and benchmarked, so that others in the community can use them further. Fluid mechanics experiments will use both analog materials such as syrup and wax, and molten natural basalts. Careful rheological analysis will accompany the experiments and be used to inform the numerical models, and scaling analysis will ensure transferability of the results to natural systems. The results of this project are likely to improve the assessment and mitigation of volcanic hazards through and enhanced understanding of the processes that control lava emplacement. The public appeal of volcanology will be harnessed to promote Earth Science literacy, scientific careers and college preparedness for high-school students, particularly at underserved and underrepresented communities. This project involves an international collaboration with scientists in Europe and strengthens collaboration between university scientists and the United States Geological Survey (USGS).