The formation of vesicular cylinders in pahoehoe lava flows

A. Fowler*, Alison C. Rust, M. Vynnycky

*Corresponding author for this work

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

14 Citations (Scopus)


Vertical cylinders of bubble-enriched, chemically evolved volcanic rock are found in many inflated pahoehoe lava flows. We provide a putative theoretical explanation for their formation, based on a description of a crystallising three-phase (liquid, solid, gas) crystal pile in which the water-saturated silicate melt exsolves steam and becomes more silica-rich as it crystallises anhydrous minerals. These cylinders resemble pipes that form in solidifying binary alloys as a result of sufficiently vigorous porous medium convection within the mush. A convection model with the addition of gas bubbles that provide the buoyancy source indicates that the effective Rayleigh number is too low for convection to occur in the mush of a basalt lava flow. However, the formation of gas bubbles during crystallisation means that the base state includes fluid migration up through the crystal mush even without convection. Stability considerations suggest that it is plausible to form a positive feedback where increased local porosity causes increased upwards fluid flow, which brings more silicic melt up and lowers the liquidus temperature, promoting locally higher porosity. Numerical solutions show that there are steady solutions in which cylinders form, and we conclude that this model provides a viable explanation for vesicular cylinder formation in inflated basalt lava flows.

Original languageEnglish
JournalGeophysical and Astrophysical Fluid Dynamics
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 26 Sep 2014


  • Convection in lava
  • Pahoehoe
  • Three-phase flow
  • Vesicular columns


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