Abstract

The lava flows of Parícutin Volcano, Mexico, offer an exceptional opportunity to study details of lava movement, because many flows are accessible throughout their length and can be watched from their birth to the cessation of their movement. Petrographically the lavas show no significant difference from one flow to another or in different parts of the same flow. The maximum lava temperature observed was 1070°C.; the maximum estimated rate of flow was 60 meters per minute; the viscosity is probably on the order of 105 to 106 poises. The flows start in fissure zones cutting older Parícutin lavas near the southwest base of the volcano. Within a short distance of its orifice a flow is covered with cooled blocks which are broken and slightly abraded as they are carried downstream. Differential movement in a flow takes place principally at its edges, where a reddish breccia and grooved and slickensided surfaces form. Like a glacier, a lava flow develops transverse crescentic ridges and lateral moraines. At its front movement is normally effected by the rolling forward of molten lava within, which carries down cooled blocks from the surface and piles them up ahead of the flow. As a flow dies the lava level lowers in the channel, and small side tongues break through the moraines. Some Parícutin lavas move considerable distances beneath older lava. The longest flow, which covered the town of San Juan in 1944, has a surface of rough curved slabs very different from the blocky surface of other flows but similar to the surface structures developed near lava orifices and by movement of viscous lava through fissures.

The complexities of this small lava field, produced simply by the movement of successive flows, would be difficult to interpret if found in older rocks.

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