Lava flows are abundant throughout the solar system, and are the most common fashion in which erupted magmas are emplaced. Lava flows hold key information about fundamental processes of planetary evolution, but at the same time present a great risk to the communities residing near some active volcanoes. Despite their clear importance in shaping the planet and affecting society, there are many open questions regarding the properties and behavior of lava flows. This project aims to combine a novel observational technique for measuring lava deformation in the field with a comprehensive flow modeling program in order to develop a better understanding of lava physical properties and the behavior and dynamics of active flows. Gaining more accurate descriptions of the mechanical properties of lavas in their natural environment and of the processes controlling flow emplacement will help address fundamental scientific questions, such as the way oceanic crust is formed or how the faces of volcanically-active moons and planets are shaped. The proposed work is applicable to lava flows in a wide range of environments.
The researchers will employ a new experimental, observational and analytical methodology designed to measure lava velocity in active channelized flows in great detail and to infer a rheology model from it. They will capture, in-situ, the entire surface velocity and temperature fields of the flowing lava using both visible and infrared high-resolution cameras. They make observations on both natural lava flows in active volcanoes (e.g., in Hawai'i or Italy) and man-made lava flows at the Lava Project experimental facility in Syracuse University (http://lavaproject.syr.edu). The theoretical aspects of this work will employ modern computer-vision techniques to extract the velocity field from the captured imagery. Data obtained in the experiments and in the field will be used to narrow down the most appropriate rheological model and parameters that are needed to describe flowing lava. This will be done by systematically examining numerical forward-models of channelized flow with varying rheologies and geometries. This work will be the first time that lava rheology and deformation are studied at such detail and close range. In parallel to the observational effort, it is planned to advance the computational tools used to model lava flows, in order to allow models that account for complex rheologies and flow structures. For example, they will strive to develop a modeling tool that will include the field-based rheological model and will support self- channelization, an important capability currently not available to the community. They will make their modeling tool general and flexible, to accommodate a wide set of eruption environments, including terrestrial, submarine and volcanic terrains on other planets.
Lava flows are abundant throughout the solar system, and are the most common fashion in which erupted magmas are emplaced. Lava flows hold key information about fundamental processes of planetary evolution, but at the same time present a great risk to the communities residing near active volcanoes. In this project, we were able to advance our understanding of lava flows by focusing on the relationship between lava viscosity, lava flow velocity, and the quantitative measurements of both. We developed a method for measuring lava velocity across the surface of flowing lava, using video analysis. We also correlated this velocity field with temperatures we measured using and infrared camera, and established the dependence of viscosity on temperature for basaltic lava. We are now using this same method to measure velocity in other volcanic environments. During the process of developing our method, we helped establish a new, unique laboratory facility, the Syracuse University Lava Lab. In this lab, large (up to 400 lbs) of rocks are molten at high temperature, and poured to create lava flows. We tested the behavior of lava on a range of bed materials, including old lava flows, snow, ice, gravel, sand and metal. We also examined how lava interacts with obstacles, and how it cools over time. On top of being an excellent scientific resource, the Lava Lab also provides a unique opportunity for interaction between scientists and artists, since it is located at and run by the Sculpture professor of the Fine Arts Department. Using numerical models of lava flow inside channels, we found that estimating the volumetric flow rate and viscosity of lava based only on the velocity at the surface of the flow and assuming an inaccurate shape for the channel, can lead to large errors. Our results provide a way to place reliable upper and lower bounds on possible flow rate and viscosity values. This is important for quantitatively assessing hazards during an eruption. In addition to the scientific value and the importance of our work to natural hazard preparedness, it also provided an exciting opportunity for outreach to public audience of all ages. Multiple press organizations documented our work at the Lava Lab, school children visited, and the National Public Radio recorded a program in which PI Lev described the results of this project.