The 1959 eruption of Kilauea volcano is unique among recent Kilauea summit eruptions (1952 to 1968) in at least two respects: (1) a large collapse of Kilauea summit accompanied the eruption, and (2) the erupted lavas show a complex variation in their bulk chemical composition. Both features suggest that the 1959 eruption was fed from a source different from that which fed other summit eruptions in this period.

The variations in chemical composition can be interpreted in terms of mixing chromite-bearing olivine with variable proportions of two “end-member” magmas represented by the composition of samples of pumice erupted during the first phase of the eruption. Mixing calculations show that the MgO content of olivine varies with the MgO content of the lava and thus with olivine percentage in the same manner as previously determined by Richter and Murata (1966) from petrographic study of hand samples. The calculations also show that the proportion of the two end-member magma types varies throughout the eruption. These results suggest that the eruption was fed from two separate magma batches, each of which was held in a reservoir with an olivine-poor top and olivine accumulation toward the bottom. There is also evidence that the two end-member magmas may be related by redistribution of clinopyroxene in a third hypothetical magma. The complex pre-eruption history implied by the chemical data is at present not satisfactorily explained by any physical model of fractionation, storage, and mixing that can be inferred from data on other well-studied Kilauea eruptions.

The average MgO content (15.5 percent) of the 1959 eruption is estimated to be in minimum MgO content of magma produced by partial melting in the mantle beneath Kilauea.

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