NSFGEO-NERC: Collaborative Research: Multi-scale investigation of rheology and emplacement of multi-phase lava

Lead Research Organisation: Durham University
Department Name: Earth Sciences


When a volcanic eruption produces lava flows that threaten a community, as happened recently during the 2018 Kilauea Volcano eruption in Hawai'i, the two most pressing questions are often:"where will the lava go?",and "how soon will it get there?". This project seeks to help answer these questions by building a quantitative description of the rheology of lava and how it evolves during flow emplacement. Simply put, lava rheology determines how quickly the lava will flow and what form the flow will take.

Lava flows displace communities, destroy homes and infrastructure, and in some cases present a serious hazard to life. Accurate forecasting of lava flow emplacement is essential to hazard mitigation and management. To achieve this, we must resolve two key issues: 1) how lava rheology evolves during emplacement; 2) how rheology controls emplacement. The central goal of this project is to produce a quantitative description of the complex feedback between lava rheology and emplacement.

The 2018 eruption at the lower east rift zone of Kilauea (KLERZ) provides an opportunity to investigate lava emplacement in unprecedented detail. During the eruption, an Unoccupied Aerial System (UAS) captured a comprehensive time-series of overhead videos of channelized lava (the "Fissure 8", or F8 flow). The videography campaign was purposefully designed to collect data for 'remote rheometry' by hovering above specific sites and revisiting the same sites on multiple occasions. Crucially, a companion suite of samples was collected from the same sites both during and immediately after the eruption. Our plan leverages the value of the linked data sets by integrating tasks addressing a range of scales: analysis and rheometry of KLERZ lavas; fluid dynamic experiments with lava analogs; numerical modelling. Combined, these studies will produce a quantitative framework for understanding lava flow emplacement.

This project involves a new international collaboration with scientists in the USA and the UK, which we intend to continue after this project ends. The inter-agency collaboration between university scientists and the United States Geological Survey will facilitate and expedite the application of new academic knowledge to real-world challenges.

Planned Impact

The KLERZ eruption of 2018 and the destruction and displacement it caused serve as a powerful case study for the human impact of lava flows. Results from this project can transfer to societally-relevant applications of volcanology, mainly hazard mitigation and risk management at other risky volcanoes around the world. Moreover, the impact of this project will be expanded beyond volcanology and volcanic hazard mitigation in several ways. The development of validated multi-phase rheological relationships will be applicable also to magmatic systems at depth, where direct observations are not possible, and to other disciplines such as material sciences and engineering. Results will be shared with stake-holders within and beyond the science community at meetings such as Cities on Volcanoes and through the collaboration with the USGS.

We will continue to involve educators serving underrepresented communities in lab experiments, to promote science literacy and help broaden participation in science. The PIs and the educators will produce educational content based on footage from the field and the laboratory experiments that will be shared through local, regional and national channels. In particular, project goals and outcomes will be shared with local residents affected by the eruption through presentations and fit sheets. This project will support two graduate students (at LDEO and MU) and a postdoctoral researcher (at Durham). This project involves an international collaboration with scientists in the UK, as well as an inter-agency collaboration between university scientists and the USGS. This collaboration with the USGS will facilitate and expedite the application of new academic knowledge to real-world challenges.


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