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Journal Articles Earth and Planetary Science Letters Year : 2018

The viscosity of pāhoehoe lava: In situ syn-eruptive measurements from Kilauea, Hawaii


Viscosity is one of the most important physical properties controlling lava flow dynamics. Usually, viscosity is measured in the laboratory where key parameters can be controlled but can never reproduce the natural environment and original state of the lava in terms of crystal and bubble contents, dissolved volatiles, and oxygen fugacity. The most promising approach for quantifying the rheology of molten lava in its natural state is therefore to carry out direct field measurements by inserting a viscometer into the lava while it is flowing. Such in-situ syn-eruptive viscosity measurements are notoriously difficult to perform due to the lack of appropriate instrumentation and the difficulty of working on or near an active lava flow. In the field, rotational viscometer measurements are of particular value as they have the potential to measure the properties of the flow interior rather than an integration of the viscosity of the viscoelastic crust + flow interior. To our knowledge only one field rotational viscometer is available, but logistical constraints have meant that it has not been used for 20 yr. Here, we describe new viscosity measurements made using the refurbished version of this custom-built rotational viscometer, as performed on active pāhoehoe lobes from the 61G lava flow of Kilauea's Pu'u 'Ō'ō eruption in 2016. We successfully measured a viscosity of ∼380 Pa s at strain-rates between 1.6 and 5 s-1 and at 1144 °C. Additionally, synchronous lava sampling allowed us to provide detailed textural and chemical characterization of quenched samples. Application of current physico-chemical models based on this characterization (16 ± 4 vol.% crystals; 50 ± 6 vol.% vesicles), gave viscosity estimates that were approximately compatible with the measured values, highlighting the sensitivity of model-based viscosity estimates on the effect of deformable bubbles. Our measurements also agree on the range of viscosities in comparison to previous field experiments on Hawaiian lavas. Conversely, direct comparison with sub-liquidus rheological laboratory measurements on natural lavas was unsuccessful because recreating field conditions (in particular volatile and bubble content) is so far inaccessible in the laboratory. Our work shows the value of field rotational viscometry fully-integrated with sample characterization to quantify three-phase lava viscosity. Finally, this work suggests the need for the development of a more versatile instrument capable of recording precise measurements at low torque and low strain rate, and with synchronous temperature measurements.

Dates and versions

insu-03708970 , version 1 (29-06-2022)



Magdalena Oryaëlle Chevrel, Andrew J. L. Harris, Mike R. James, Laura Calabrò, Lucia Gurioli, et al.. The viscosity of pāhoehoe lava: In situ syn-eruptive measurements from Kilauea, Hawaii. Earth and Planetary Science Letters, 2018, 493, pp.161-171. ⟨10.1016/j.epsl.2018.04.028⟩. ⟨insu-03708970⟩
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