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Chemical, Textural and Thermal Analyses of Local Interactions Between Lava Flow and a Tree – Case Study From Pāhoa, Hawai’i

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  • Jonas Biren
  • Andrew Harris
  • Hugh Tuffen
  • Lucia Gurioli
  • Magdalena Oryaëlle Chevrel
  • Ivan Vlastélic
  • Federica Schiavi
  • Mhammed Benbakkar
  • Claire Fonquernie
  • Laura Calabro
Article number233
<mark>Journal publication date</mark>30/06/2020
<mark>Journal</mark>Frontiers in Earth Science
Number of pages24
Publication StatusPublished
<mark>Original language</mark>English


Because many volcanoes are densely vegetated, understanding of the interactions between active lava flows and trees is essential for robust hazard modeling. Tree molds − lava flow features generated when advancing lava engulfs and combusts trees − are widely documented but have, to date, only been described qualitatively. Detailed, quantitative studies of molds can, however, provide insights into the nature of lava-forest interactions. Here, we present a unique characterization of the chemical, textural and thermal interactions between lava and a tree (an Albizia), taking as a case type a basaltic pāhoehoe lava flow that traveled 20 km through Hawaiian rainforest on Kilauea’s East Rift Zone between June and December 2014. The dataset includes chemical analyses of lava (major, trace and volatile species) at the lava-tree contact, quantitative descriptions of lava texture (density, vesicle and crystal populations), and thermal analysis to fingerprint the devolatilization and combustion of wood as well as with cooling and crystallization of lava around the tree. We use these results to construct a three-stage thermal model to describe heat transfer between the lava and the tree, showing how the interaction facilitates combustion of wood and release of its volatile species (CO2 and H2O) into the lava, whilst triggering enhanced cooling and crystallization of lava surrounding the tree. Chemical analyses reveal that the inflating pāhoehoe at the lava-tree contact was strongly CO2-enriched (up to 1200 ppm), and textural data show that lava is denser at the contact. Moreover, lava crystallinity indicates a cooling rate of ∼70°C min–1 at the lava-tree contact, a rate well above the expected cooling rates (30°C min–1) for pāhoehoe more distant (40 m away) from the tree. We conclude that the tree had a local cooling effect on the lava that could potentially influence lava properties at larger scale if tree density, trunk diameter and moisture content are sufficiently high