Research continues on lava from long-erupting Kīlauea Volcano

February 21, 2014

HONOLULU — On the Big Island of Hawai‘i, Kīlauea Volcano has been erupting continuously since 1983. Its lavas can provide valuable clues to the composition of the hot mantle underneath the islands, according to Hawai‘i Pacific University Assistant Professor of Environmental Science Andrew R. Greene, Ph.D.

Andrew Greene, Ph.D.

Greene is the lead author of a recent article on Kīlauea's lavas in the journal "Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems." He will present some of his science education research at the 2014 Ocean Sciences Meeting in Honolulu on natural hazards on the island of Hawai‘i later this month. He is among more than dozen HPU researchers and scientists attending the prestigious conference.

“Studies of the long-term geochemical variation of lavas from individual volcanoes in the Hawaiian Islands can help provide understanding of the chemical structure of the Hawaiian mantle plume," Greene said.

His article, "Temporal geochemical variations in lavas from Kīlauea's Pu‘u ‘Ō‘ō eruption (1983–2010): Cyclic variations from melting of source heterogeneities," represents years of research conducted on lava samples collected from one of Earth’s most active volcanoes. The researchers focused on Puʻu ʻŌʻō, a cinder-and-spatter cone on the eastern rift zone of Kīlauea volcano.

The volcano is Hawai‘i’s longest and most voluminous historical eruption. The high eruption rate and continuous nature of the Pu‘u ‘O‘o eruption provide an exceptional opportunity to use lava chemistry to evaluate the changing roles that various processes play during this single prolonged eruption, according to Greene. For example, they found systematic variations in lead isotope measurements of Pu‘u ‘Ō‘ō lavas.

"The temporal geochemical variation of Pu‘u ‘O‘o lavas from 1983 to 2010 provides insights on the chemical structure of the Hawaiian mantle plume, and the dynamics of melt transport and mixing within the mantle," Greene said.

This ongoing work can help in understanding of how active volcanoes in Hawai‘i work and how they may affect the future, he added.

Greene teaches environmental science and geology at HPU. His research focuses on volcanology and geochemistry of active and extinct volcanoes from hotspots, flood basalt provinces and volcanic island arcs.

Contact Greene at agreene@hpu.edu or (808) 236-7906.