The influence of topographic roughness on lava flow emplacement

  • M. Elise RumpfEmail author
  • Einat Lev
  • Robert Wysocki
Research Article


A quantitative understanding of the factors controlling lava flow emplacement is critical for both hazard assessment and mitigation and for the interpretation of past flow emplacement conditions. The influence of topography with a vertical amplitude smaller than flow thickness (i.e., substrate roughness) is currently not accounted for in most flow emplacement models and hazard estimates. Here, we measure the effect of substrate roughness on flow emplacement through experiments using analog fluids and molten basalt, complementing recent work on the interaction of lava flows with obstacles taller than flow thickness. We present results from three sets of analog experiments, in which corn syrup, polyethylene glycol, and molten basalt were each extruded onto a sloping plane covered with a series of beds of varying grain sizes. We find that flow front advance rates are impacted by bed roughness for all materials, with decreases in average velocities by up to 50% with increases of substrate grain sizes by 5–100 times, ranges analogous with topographic variations found in nature. These decreases in flow front advance velocities are equivalent to up to an order of magnitude increase in fluid viscosity. We interpret this velocity decrease to be caused by the movement of material into void spaces between substrate grains and by enhanced cooling through heat conduction to the substrate due to increased surface contact area. The difference in advance velocity with increasing grain size diminishes with time after initial emplacement as a basal boundary layer is established. Additionally, the experimental flow geometry, measured by the complexity of the flow external perimeter, became increasingly complex with increasing substrate grain size. This effect will act to both slow the forward advance of lava flows and to create irregular emplacement paths of flows moving over rough surfaces. We propose that flow emplacement models should be modified, possibly through a calibrated “effective viscosity” term, to account for bed roughness to increase accuracy in flow prediction and hazard estimation models.


Lava viscosity Lava dynamics and cooling Experimental volcanology Volcano hazards Analog experiments 



The authors wish to thank A. Grossberndt, C. Ford, and M. Cooper for help in completing experiments. This work was greatly improved by constructive comments from C.W. Hamilton and L. Kestay as well as careful editorial handling by G. Lube and A. Harris. The use of trade, firm, or product names is for descriptive purposes only and does not imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.

Funding information

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Award No. EAR-1452748 awarded to MER. EL was funded by NASA Grant No. NNX15AL60G and NSF grant EAR-1654588.

Supplementary material

445_2018_1238_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (119 kb)
ESM 1 (PDF 118 kb) (44.5 mb)
Online Resource 1 Video of corn syrup experiment #7. Captured from above by high definition video camera. Corn syrup is red and has been extruded from a vent on the right side of the visible region onto a substrate with GS = 0.115 mm sloped at 7°. (MOV 45560 kb) (296.8 mb)
Online Resource 2 Video of corn syrup experiment #1. Captured from above by high definition video camera. Corn syrup is red and has been extruded from a vent on the right side of the visible region onto a substrate with GS = 1.0 cm sloped at 7°. (MOV 303935 kb) (288.1 mb)
Online Resource 3 Video of polyethylene glycol (PEG) experiment #8. Captured from above by high definition video camera. PEG is green and has been extruded from a vent on the right side of the visible region onto a substrate with GS = 0.115 mm sloped at 7°. (MOV 295003 kb) (365.4 mb)
Online Resource 4 Video of polyethylene glycol (PEG) experiment #1. Captured from above by high definition video camera. PEG is green and has been extruded from a vent on the right side of the visible region onto a substrate with GS = 1.0 cm sloped at 7°. (MOV 374187 kb)
Online Resource 5

Video of molten basalt pour experiment at the Syracuse University Lava Lab Facility. Video captured by iPhone 5S. (MOV 58104 kb) (325.5 mb)
Online Resource 6 Video of molten basalt experiment #6. Captured from above by high definition video camera. Molten basalt is delivered from the furnace via a chute visible on the left hand side of the video frame onto a substrate with GS = 0.5 cm sloped at 9.5°. (MOV 333322 kb) (212.2 mb)
Online Resource 7 Video of molten basalt experiment #1. Captured from above by high definition video camera. Molten basalt is delivered from the furnace via a chute visible on the left hand side of the video frame onto a substrate with GS = 6.4 cm sloped at 9.7°. (MOV 217283 kb)


  1. Behncke B, Neri M, Nagay A (2005) Lava flow hazard at Mount Etna (Italy): new data from a GIS-based study. Geol Soc Am Spec Pap 396:189–208Google Scholar
  2. Blake S, Bruno BC (2000) Modelling the emplacement of compound lava flows. Earth Planet Sci Lett 184:181–197CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bridges NT (1992) Laboratory models of lava domes. M.S. Thesis, Arizona State UniversityGoogle Scholar
  4. Brown RJ, Thordarson T, Self S, Blake S (2015) Disruption of tephra fall deposits caused by lava flows during basaltic eruptions. Bull Volcanol 77:90. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Candela A, Noto LV, Aronica G (2005) Influence of surface roughness in hydrological response of semiarid catchments. J Hydrol 313(3–4):119–131CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Cappello A, Herault A, Bilotta G, Ganci G, Del Negro C (2015) MAGFLOW: a physics-based model for the dynamics of lava-flow emplacement. Geol Soc Lond 426:357–373. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Carslaw HS, Jaeger JC (1959) Conduction of heat in solids, 2nd edn. Clarendon Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  8. Cashman KV, Kerr RC, Griffiths RW (2006) A laboratory model of surface crust formation and disruption on lava flows through non-uniform channels. Bull Volcanol 68(7–8):753–770CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Cashman KV, Soule SA, Mackey BH, Deligne NI, Deardorff ND, Dietterich HR (2013) How lava flows: new insights from applications of lidar technologies to lava flow studies. Geosphere 9(6):1664–1680CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Castruccio A, Rust A, Sparks RSJ (2010) Rheology and flow of crystal-bearing lavas: insights from analogue gravity currents. Earth Planet Sci Lett 297:471–480CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Chevrel MO, Platz T, Hauber E, Baratoux D, Lavallée Y, Dingwell DB (2013) Lava flow rheology: a comparison of morphological and petrological methods. Earth Planet Sci Lett 384:109–120CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Connor LJ, Connor CB, Meliksetian K, Savov I (2012) Probabilistic approach to modeling lava flow inundation: a lava flow hazard assessment for a nuclear facility in Armenia. J Appl Volcanol 1(1):3CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Cordonnier B, Lev E, Garel F (2015) Benchmarking lava-flow models. Geol Soc Spec Publ 426:425–445. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Crisp J, Baloga S (1990) A model for lava flows with two thermal components. J Geophys Res 95(82):1255–1270CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Crown DA, Ramsey MS (2017) Morphologic and thermophysical characteristics of lava flows southwest of Arsia Mons, Mars. J Volcanol Geotherm Res 342(2017):13–28CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Dietterich HR, Cashman KV (2014) Channel networks within lava flows: formation, evolution, and implications for flow behavior. J Geophys Res Earth Surf 119:1704–1724. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Dietterich HR, Cashman KV, Rust AC, Lev E (2015) Diverting lava flows in the lab. Nat Geosci 8:494–496. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Dietterich HR, Lev E, Chen J, Richardson JA, Cashman KV (2017) Benchmarking computational fluid dynamics models of lava flow simulation for hazard assessment, forecasting, and risk management. J Appl Volcanol 6:9. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Dragoni M (1989) A dynamical model of lava flows cooling by radiation. Bull Volcanol 51:88–95CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Edwards BR, Karson J, Wysocki R, Lev E, Bindeman I, Kueppers U (2013) Insights on lava ice/snow interactions from large-scale basaltic melt experiments. Geology 41:851–854. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Fagents SA, Greeley R (2001) Factors influencing lava-substrate heat transfer and implications for thermomechanical erosion. Bull Volcanol 62:519–532CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Fagents SA, Rumpf ME, Crawford IA, Joy KH (2010) Preservation potential of implanted solar wind volatiles in lunar palaeoregolith deposits buried by lava flows. Icarus 207:595–604CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Favalli M, Pareschi M, Neri A, Isola I (2005) Forecasting lava flow paths by a stochastic approach. Geophys Res Lett 32:L03305CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Favalli M, Tarquini S, Fornaciai A (2011) DOWNFLOW code and LIDAR technology for lava flow analysis and hazard assessment at Mount Etna. Ann Geophys 54:5. Google Scholar
  25. Favalli M, Fornaciai A, Nannipieri L, Harris A, Calvari S, Lormand C (2018) UAV-based remote sensing surveys of lava flow fields: a case study from Etna’s 1974 channel-fed lava flows. Bull Volcanol 80(3):29CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Ferlito C, Siewert J (2006) Lava channel formation during the 2001 eruption on Mount Etna: evidence for mechanical erosion. Phys Rev Lett 96(2):028501. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Fink JH, Griffiths RW (1990) Radial spreading of viscous gravity currents with solidifying crust. J Fluid Mech 221:485–509CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Fink JH, Griffiths RW (1992) A laboratory analog study of the surface morphology of lava flows extruded from point and line sources. J Volcanol Geothermal Res 54:19–32Google Scholar
  29. Fink JH, Bridges NT, Grimm RE (1993) Shapes of Venusian “pancake” domes imply episodic emplacement and silicic composition. Geophys Res Lett 20(4):261–264CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Fujita E, Hidaka M, Goto A, Umino S (2009) Simulations of measures to control lava flows. Bull Volcanol 71:401–408CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Furbish DJ (1997) Fluid physics in geology: an introduction to fluid motions on Earth’s surface and within its crust. Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  32. Ganci G, Vicari A, Cappello A, Del Negro C (2012) An emergent strategy for volcano hazard assessment: from thermal satellite monitoring to lava flow modeling. Remote Sens Environ 119:197–207CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Giordano D, Russell JK, Dingwell DB (2008) Viscosity of magmatic liquids: a model. Earth Planet Sci Lett 271(1–4):123–134CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Glaze LS, Baloga SM, Fagents SA, Wright R (2014) The influence of slope breaks on lava flow surface disruption. J Geophys Res Solid Earth 119:1837–1850. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Gregg TKP, Fink JH (1996) Quantification of extraterrestrial lava flow effusion rates through laboratory simulations. J Geophys Res 101(E7):16,891–16,900CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Gregg TKP, Fink JH (2000) A laboratory investigation into the effects of slope on lava flow morphology. J Volcanol Geotherm Res 96:145–159CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Gregg TK, Keszthelyi LP (2004) The emplacement of pahoehoe toes: field observations and comparison to laboratory simulations. Bull Volcanol 66:381–391Google Scholar
  38. Griffiths RW (2000) The dynamics of lava flows. Annu Rev Fluid Mech 32(1):477–518CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Griffiths RW, Fink JH (1992) The morphology of lava flows in planetary environments: predictions from analog experiments. J Geophys Res 97(19):739–748Google Scholar
  40. Hamilton CW, Glaze LS, James MR, Baloga SM (2013) Topographic and stochastic influences on pāhoehoe lava lobe emplacement. Bull Volcanol 75(11):756CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Harris AJL, Rowland SK (2001) FLOWGO: a kinematic thermo-rheological model for lava flowing in a channel. Bull Volcanol. 63:20–44
  42. Harris AJL, Rowland SK (2009) Effusion rate controls on lava flow length and the role of heat loss: a review. Studies in volcanology: the legacy of George Walker. IAVCEI Spec Pub 2:33–51Google Scholar
  43. Harris AJL, Rowland SK (2015) Flowgo 2012. In: Carey R, Cayol V, Poland M, Weis D (eds) Hawaiian Volcanoes.
  44. Harris AJL, Butterworth AL, Carlton RW, Downey I, Miller P, Navarro P, Rothery DA (1997) Low-cost volcano surveillance from space: case studies from Etna, Krafla, Cerro Negro, Fogo, Lascar and Erebus. Bull Volcanol 59:49–64CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Harris AJL, Flynn LP, Keszthelyi L, Mouginis-Mark PJ, Rowland SK, Resing JA (1998) Calculation of lava effusion rates from Landsat TM data. Bull Volcanol 60:52–71CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Herault A, Vicari A, Ciraudo A, Del Negro C (2009) Forecasting lava flow hazards during the 2006 Etna eruption: using the MAGFLOW cellular automata model. Comput Geosci 35(5):1050–1060CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Herault A, Bilotta G, Vicari A, Rustico E, Del Negro C (2011) Numerical simulation of lava flow using a GPU SPH model. In: Del Negro C, Gresta S (eds) The lava flow invasion hazard map at Mount Etna and methods for its dynamic update. Annals Geophys. 54(5)
  48. Heslop SE, Wilson L, Pinkerton H, Head JW (1989) Dynamics of a confined lava flow on Kilauea volcano, Hawaii. Bull Volcanol 51:415–432CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Hidaka M, Goto A, Umino S, Fujita E (2005) VTFS project: development of the lava flow simulation code LavaSIM with a model for three-dimensional convection, spreading, and solidification. Geochem Geophys Geosyst 6:Q07008. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Hon K, Kauahikaua J, Denlinger R, McKay K (1994) Emplacement and inflation of pahoehoe sheet flows: observations and measurements of active lava flows on Kilauea volcano, Hawaii. Geol Soc Am Bull 106:351–370CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Hoover SR, Cashman KV, Manga M (2001) The yield strength of subliquidus basalts—experimental results. J Volcanol Geotherm Res 107(1–3):1–18CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Horritt MS, Bates PD (2002) Evaluation of 1D and 2D numerical models for predicting river flood inundation. J Hydrol 268(1):87–99CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Kerr RC, Griffiths RW, Cashman KV (2006) Formation of channelized lava flows on an unconfined slope. J Geophys Res 111:B10206. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Keszthelyi L (1995) Measurements of the cooling at the base of pahoehoe flows. Geophy Res Lett 22(16):2195–2198CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Keszthelyi L, Denlinger R (1996) The initial cooling of pahoehoe flow lobes. Bull Volcanol 58:5–18CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Keszthelyi L, Self S (1998) Some physical requirements for the emplacement of long basaltic lava flows. J Geophys Res 103(ll):27447–27464CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Keszthelyi L, Harris AJL, Dehn J (2003) Observations of the effect of wind on the cooling of active lava flows. Geophys Res Lett 30(19).
  58. Kim JS, Lee CJ, Kim W, Kim YJ (2010) Roughness coefficient and its uncertainty in gravel-bed river. Water Sci Eng 3:2Google Scholar
  59. Kundu PK, Cohen IM (2004) Fluid mechanics, 3rd edn. Academic Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  60. Limerinos JT, California. Dept. of Water Resources (1970) Determination of the Manning coefficient from measured bed roughness in natural channels. USGS Water Suppl Pap 1898-BGoogle Scholar
  61. Lu Z, Masterlark T, Dzurisin D (2005) Interferometric synthetic aperture radar study of Okmok volcano, Alaska, 1992–2003: magma supply dynamics and postemplacement lava flow deformation. J Geophys Res Solid Earth, 110(B2)Google Scholar
  62. Macdonald GA (1953) Pahoehoe, aa, and block lava. Am J Sci 251:169–191CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Moore HJ (1987) Preliminary estimates of the rheological properties of 1984 Mauna Loa lava. US Geol Surv Prof Pap 1350:1569–1588Google Scholar
  64. Müller D, Walter TR, Schöpa A, Witt T, Steinke B, Gudmundsson MT, Dürig T (2017) High-resolution digital elevation modeling from TLS and UAV campaign reveals structural complexity at the 2014/2015 Holuhraun eruption site, Iceland. Front Earth Sci 5:59CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Oppenheimer C (1991) Lava flow cooling estimated from Landsat thematic mapper infrared data: the Lonquimay eruption (Chile, 1989). J Geophys Res 96:21,865–21,878CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Patrick MR, Dehn J, Dean K (2004) Numerical modeling of lava flow cooling applied to the 1997 Okmok eruption: approach and analysis. J Geophys Res 109:B03202. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Patrick M, Orr T, Fisher G, Trusdell F, Kauahikaua J (2017) Thermal mapping of a pāhoehoe lava flow, Kīlauea Volcano. J Volcanol Geotherm Res 332:71–87Google Scholar
  68. Pinkerton H, Sparks RSJ (1978) Field measurements of the rheology of lava. Nature 276(5686):383–385CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Pinkerton H, Wilson L (1994) Factors controlling the lengths of channel fed lava flows. Bull Volcanol 56:108–120CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Proietti C, Coltelli M, Marsella M, Fujita E (2009) A quantitative approach for evaluating lava flow simulation reliability: LavaSIM code applied to the 2001 Etna eruption. Geochem Geophys Geosyst 10:Q09003. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Richter N, Favalli M, de Zeeuw-van Dalfsen E, Fornaciai A, da Silva Fernandes RM, Rodriguez NP, Levy J, Victória SS, Walter TR (2016) Lava flow hazard at Fogo Volcano, Cape Verde, before and after the 2014–2015 eruption. Nat Hazards Earth Syst Sci Discuss.
  72. Rowland SK, Walker GPL (1990) Pahoehoe and aa in Hawaii: volumetric flow rate controls the lava structure. Bull Volcanol 52:615–628. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Rowland S, Garbeil H, Harris A (2005) Lengths and hazards from channel-fed lava flows on Mauna Loa, Hawai‘i, determined from thermal and downslope modeling with FLOWGO. Bull Volcanol 67:634–647CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Rumpf ME, Fagents SA, Crawford IA, Joy KH (2013a) Numerical modeling of lava-regolith heat transfer on the moon and implications for the preservation of implanted volatiles. J Geophys Res Planet 118:382–397. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. Rumpf ME, Fagents SA, Hamilton CW, Crawford IA (2013b) Numerical and experimental approaches toward understanding lava flow heat transfer, Eos Trans. AGU, Fall Mtg. Suppl., Section Abs. V51D-2707Google Scholar
  76. Scifoni S, Coltelli M, Marsella M, Proietti C, Napoleoni Q, Vicari A, Del Negro C (2010) Mitigation of lava flow invasion hazard through optimized barrier configuration aided by numerical simulation: the case of the 2001 Etna eruption. J Volcanol Geotherm Res 192(1–2):16–26CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Scott WE (1989) Volcanic hazard zonation and long-term forecasts, In Volcanic hazards, Short Courses in Geol, V1, ed. RI Tilling, AGU, 25–49Google Scholar
  78. Siewert J, Ferlito C (2008) Mechanical erosion by flowing lava. Contempor Phys 49(1):43–54. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  79. Solana MC, Kilburn CRJ, Rolandi G (2008) Communicating eruption and hazard forecasts on Vesuvius, southern Italy. J Volcanol Geotherm Res 172(3–4):308–314CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. Soule SA, Cashman KV (2005) The shear rate dependence of the pahoehoe-to-aa transition: analog experiments. Geology 33:361–364CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  81. Stasiuk MV, Jaupart C, Stephen R, Sparks J (1993) Influence of cooling on lava-flow dynamics. Geology 21(4):335–338CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  82. Swanson D (1973) Pahoehoe flows from the 1969-1971 Mauna Ulu eruption, Kilauea volcano, Hawaii. Geol Soc Am Bull 84:615–626CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  83. Tarolli (2014) High-resolution topography for understanding Earth surface processes: opportunities and challenges. Geomorph 216:295–312CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  84. Tarquini S (2017) A review of mass and energy flow through a lava flow system: insights provided from a non-equilibrium perspective. Bull Volcanol 79(8):64CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  85. Tarquini S, Favalli M (2011) Mapping and DOWNFLOW simulation of recent lava flow fields at Mount Etna. J Volcanol and Geotherm Res 204:27–39CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  86. Turner NR, Perroy RL, Hon K (2017) Lava flow hazard prediction and monitoring with UAS: a case study from the 2014–2015 Pāhoa lava flow crisis, Hawai‘i. J Appl Volcanol 6(1):17CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  87. Wadge G, Young PAV, McKendrick IJ (1994) Mapping lava flow hazards using computer simulation. J Geophysic Res Solid Earth 99(B1):489–504CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  88. Walker GPL (1967) Thickness and viscosity of Etnean lavas. Nature 213:484–485CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  89. Walker GPL (1971) Compound and simple lava flows and flood basalts. Bull Volcanol 35:579–590CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  90. Walker GPL (1973) Lengths of lava flows, in guest, JE, and Skelhorn, RR, eds., Mount Etna and the 1971 eruption. Philosoph Trans R Soc London A 274(1238):107–118CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  91. Whelley PL, Glaze LS, Calder ES, Harding DJ (2014) LiDAR-derived surface roughness mapping: applications to Mount St. Helens Pumice Plain deposit analysis. IEEE Trans Geosci Remote Sens 52(1):426–438. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  92. Wolovick MJ, Creyts TT, Buck WR, Bell RE (2014) Traveling slippery patches produce thickness-scale folds in ice sheets. Geophys Res Lett 41(24):8895–8901CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  93. Lister JR (1992) Viscous flows down an inclined plane from point and line sources. J Fluid Mech 242:631–653Google Scholar

Copyright information

© This is a U.S. Government work and not under copyright protection in the US; foreign copyright protection may apply 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Lamont-Doherty Earth ObservatoryColumbia UniversityPalisadesUSA
  2. 2.U.S. Geological Survey, Astrogeology Science CenterFlagstaffUSA
  3. 3.School of ArtSyracuse UniversitySyracuseUSA

Personalised recommendations