Effusive eruption

An ʻaʻā lava flow from Mauna Loa during its 1984 eruption.

An effusive eruption is a type of volcanic eruption in which lava steadily flows out of a volcano onto the ground. There are two major groupings of eruptions: effusive and explosive.[1] Effusive eruption differs from explosive eruption, wherein magma is violently fragmented and rapidly expelled from a volcano. Effusive eruptions are most common in basaltic magmas, but they also occur in intermediate and felsic magmas. These eruptions form lava flows and lava domes, each of which vary in shape, length, and width.[2] Deep in the crust, gasses are dissolved into the magma because of high pressures, but upon ascent and eruption, pressure drops rapidly, and these gasses begin to exsolve out of the melt. A volcanic eruption is effusive when the erupting magma is volatile poor (water, carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, hydrogen chloride, and hydrogen fluoride), which suppresses fragmentation, creating an oozing magma which spills out of the volcanic vent and out into the surrounding area.[1] The shape of effusive lava flows is governed by the type of lava (i.e. composition), rate and duration of eruption, and topography of the surrounding landscape.[3]

Time-lapse video of Kilauea flank vent eruption, 2005

For an effusive eruption to occur, magma must be permeable enough to allow the expulsion of gas bubbles contained within it. If the magma is not above a certain permeability threshold, it cannot degas and will erupt explosively. Additionally, at a certain threshold, fragmentation within the magma can cause an explosive eruption. This threshold is governed by the Reynolds Number, a dimensionless number in fluid dynamics that is directly proportional to fluid velocity. Eruptions will be effusive if the magma has a low ascent velocity. At higher magma ascent rates, the fragmentation within the magma passes a threshold and results in explosive eruptions.[4] Silicic magma also exhibits this transition between effusive and explosive eruptions,[5] but the fragmentation mechanism differs.[4] The 1912 Novarupta eruption and the 2003 Stromboli eruption both exhibited a transition between explosive and effusive eruption patterns.[5][6]

Basaltic eruptionsEdit

Basaltic composition magmas are the most common effusive eruptions because they are not water saturated and have low viscosity. Most people know them from the classic pictures of rivers of lava in Hawaii. Eruptions of basaltic magma often transition between effusive and explosive eruption patterns. The behavior of these eruptions is largely dependent on the permeability of the magma and the magma ascent rate. During eruption, dissolved gasses exsolve and begin to rise out of the magma as gas bubbles.[7] If the magma is rising slowly enough, these bubbles will have time to rise and escape, leaving a less buoyant magma behind that fluidly flows out. Effusive basalt lava flows cool to either of two forms, ʻaʻā (pronounced “ah ah”) or pāhoehoe (pronounced “puh hoy hoy”).[8] This type of lava flow builds shield volcanoes, which are numerous in Hawaii,[9] and is how the island was and currently is being formed.

Silicic eruptionsEdit

Alaskan volcano Novarupta with an effused lava dome at the summit.

Silicic magmas most commonly erupt explosively, but they can erupt effusively.[10] These magmas are water saturated,[11] and many orders of magnitude more viscous than basaltic magmas, making degassing and effusion more complicated. Degassing prior to eruption, through fractures in the country rock surrounding the magma chamber,[12] plays an important role. Gas bubbles can begin to escape through the tiny spaces and relieve pressure, visible on the surface as vents of dense gas.[13] The ascent speed of the magma is the most important factor controlling which type of eruption it will be. For silicic magmas to erupt effusively, the ascent rate must be  to   m/s, with permeable conduit walls,[4] so that gas has time to exsolve and dissipate into the surrounding rock. If the flow rate is too fast, even if the conduit is permeable, it will act as though it is impermeable[4] and will result in an explosive eruption. Silicic magmas typically form blocky lava flows[14] or steep-sided mounds, called lava domes, because their high viscosity[15] does not allow it to flow like that of basaltic magmas. When felsic domes form, they are emplaced within and on top of the conduit.[16] If a dome forms and crystalizes enough early in an eruption, it acts as a plug on the system,[16] denying the main mechanism of degassing. If this happens, it is common that the eruption will change from effusive to explosive, due to pressure build up below the lava dome.[10]


  1. ^ a b "Eruption Styles". volcano.oregonstate.edu. Retrieved 2018-04-25.
  2. ^ Program, Volcano Hazards. "USGS: Volcano Hazards Program Glossary - Effusive eruption". volcanoes.usgs.gov. Retrieved 2018-04-25.
  3. ^ Marshak, Stephen. Essentials of geology. New York: W.W. Norton, 2013.
  4. ^ a b c d Namiki, Atsuko; Manga, Michael (2008-01-01). "Transition between fragmentation and permeable outgassing of low viscosity magmas". Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research. 169 (1–2): 48–60. doi:10.1016/j.jvolgeores.2007.07.020.
  5. ^ a b Nguyen, C. T.; Gonnermann, H. M.; Houghton, B. F. (2014). "Explosive to effusive transition during the largest volcanic eruption of the 20th century (Novarupta 1912, Alaska)". Geology. 42 (8): 703–706. doi:10.1130/g35593.1.
  6. ^ Ripepe, Maurizio; Marchetti, Emanuele; Ulivieri, Giacomo; Harris, Andrew; Dehn, Jonathan; Burton, Mike; Caltabiano, Tommaso; Salerno, Giuseppe (2005). "Effusive to explosive transition during the 2003 eruption of Stromboli volcano". Geology. 33 (5): 341. doi:10.1130/g21173.1.
  7. ^ "Effusive Volcanoes". gwentprepared.org.uk. Retrieved 2018-04-25.
  8. ^ Camp, Vic. "How Volcanoes Work - Basaltic Lava". Department of Geological Sciences, San Diego State University. Retrieved 28 October 2014.
  9. ^ "Effusive & Explosive Eruptions". The Geological Society.
  10. ^ a b Platz, Thomas; Cronin, Shane J.; Cashman, Katharine V.; Stewart, Robert B.; Smith, Ian E.M. (March 2007). "Transition from effusive to explosive phases in andesite eruptions — A case-study from the AD1655 eruption of Mt. Taranaki, New Zealand". Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research. 161 (1–2): 15–34. doi:10.1016/j.jvolgeores.2006.11.005. ISSN 0377-0273.
  11. ^ Woods, Andrew W.; Koyaguchi, Takehiro (August 1994). "Transitions between explosive and effusive eruptions of silicic magmas". Nature. 370 (6491): 641–644. doi:10.1038/370641a0. ISSN 0028-0836.
  12. ^ Owen, Jacqueline; Tuffen, Hugh; McGarvie, David W. (May 2013). "Pre-eruptive volatile content, degassing paths and depressurisation explaining the transition in style at the subglacial rhyolitic eruption of Dalakvísl, South Iceland". Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research. 258: 143–162. doi:10.1016/j.jvolgeores.2013.03.021. ISSN 0377-0273.
  13. ^ Burton, Michael R. (2005). "Etna 2004–2005: An archetype for geodynamically-controlled effusive eruptions". Geophysical Research Letters. 32 (9). doi:10.1029/2005gl022527. ISSN 0094-8276.
  14. ^ "How Volcanoes Work - Andesitic to Rhyolitic Lava".
  15. ^ "USGS: Volcano Hazards Program Glossary".
  16. ^ a b Nelson, Stephen (26 August 2017). "Volcanoes and Volcanic Eruptions". www.Tulane.edu. Retrieved 25 April 2018.