Abstract

A fundamental dichotomy in the study of basaltic lava flows is that observations of active flows are restricted to flow surfaces, yet older flows are often exposed only in vertical cross section. Cross-sectional exposures of an inflated basaltic sheet flow emplaced in Kalapana, Hawaii, from 1990 to 1991 provide an unusual opportunity to merge these two viewpoints, permitting the development of the internal structure of the flow to be viewed in the context of its known emplacement history. We demonstrate that fundamental features of the flow structure—a thick upper vesicular crust that diminishes downward in overall vesicularity, a dense flow interior, and a thin lower vesicular zone—are generated through syn-emplacement cooling of upper and lower flow crusts. Both the inverse correlation of overall vesicularity and vesicle size and the constant relative thickness of the upper vesicular zone are unique to inflated flows and permit a reinterpretation of flows previously interpreted to be ponded (rapidly emplaced). Identification of inflation, in turn, implies near-horizontal paleoslopes and permits estimates of flow duration based on upper flow crust thickness.

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