Linking lava flow morphology, water availability and rootless cone formation on the Younger Laxá Lava, NE Iceland

Frances Boreham, Katharine Cashman, Alison Rust, Ármann Höskuldsson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)
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It is well established that rootless cones and associated deposits are the result of explosive interactions between lava flows and environmental water, but there is substantial uncertainty about the dynamics of rootless eruptions, particularly the relative importance of lava supply, water availability and the conditions under which they meet. Here we present a case study of the Younger Laxá Lava in NE Iceland, and the >6500 rootless cones that it created. Critically, this long (63 km) lava flow interacted with water along its length, from flow through/around a large lake (Mývatn), down a narrow river gorge (Laxárdalur) and across a broad glacial valley with wetlands and rivers (Aðaldalur). Using high-resolution digital terrain models and aerial photographs, we map the flow surface morphology, and classify, measure and analyse the rootless cone type, size and spatial distribution in the context of both lava and water availability. We find that rootless cone size is controlled by the combined availability of lava and water: large rootless cones require sustained, high volumes of lava (related to proximity to vent) and water (e.g., Lake Mývatn), whereas limited supplies of lava (with distance from the vent and from the centre of the flow) and water (particularly in dammed river valleys) build smaller cones. Where we infer that where water was distributed in sediment, the lava–water interaction style changed to low-energy and distributed bubble bursts that created >3000 hornitos in the lower reaches of Aðaldalur. The distribution of rootless cones around Mývatn also defines the pre-eruption extent of the lake and suggests substantial lake level changes during the course of the eruption. By looking at the variation in rootless cone type and size in the context of the parent lava flow and the local environment, we explain how the availability of water and local mass flow rate of lava affect the dynamics of rootless eruptions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-19
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research
Early online date1 Sep 2018
Publication statusPublished - 15 Sep 2018


  • Rootless cone
  • pseudocrater
  • hydrovolcanism
  • lava–water interaction
  • hornito


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