Friday, May 30, 2008

Speculations and Declarations from the Spud

Oooohh Boy, Here are some ramblings for you to chew on, some of which I have been chewing on for some time (years). Dr. Jerque’s previous comments are in italics. Sorry to post a dry reply without any figures--I am having trouble pulling them into the blog--will try on Sunday. Figures 2, 15, and 16 are pretty relevant to the discussion.

The upper West Crater lava in the presumed abutment on river right does not have lava-delta deposits (wtf?). In the field, it looks like a dry flow. Why would water have not backed up in this area during the blockage? The contact of young WC on Old WC marks the perimeter of the 3400 ft lake. I suppose this part could have been dry initially as the flow continued in a generally downstream direction....

Yes, the youngest WC (above the 3400 ft contour) does not appear to have any evidence of lava-water interaction. But, the uppermost flow units immediately below 3380 ft surface do transition quickly (within a few meters) into a lava pillow delta via a passage zone (see Figure 2 in my thesis). I can think of at least two options for why the lava above the 3400 ft contour doesn’t have any pillows: 1) Lava was entering the river canyon at a much faster rate than the river discharge (and the rate of lake rise) such that the lava dam growth outpaced the rise of the reservoir; 2) the level of the reservoir stabilized at ~3370 ft (perhaps because a stable spillway developed adjacent to Pruitt’s Castle or because the dam was porous). In either case, if the full discharge of the river could seep through or sneak around the dam, the crest of the dam could grow uninhibited and not be within the reach of the water.

Option 1 is complicated by the fact that we know that the rate of dam construction and lake level rise was semi-episodic because of the presence of multiple passage zones (and accompanying subaerial lava) preserved within the dam.

Option 2 could work because portions of the dam could be porous as observed by Crow et al. (2008), a spillway could have been eroded into the ridge of Tertiary that makes Pruitt’s Castle (near the white star in figure 15 of thesis) contemporaneously with dam construction and lake filling, or some combination of both. In regards to the porosity of the dam, our friendly neighborhood p-mag expert and I discussed this during the recent trip. I had originally conceptualized that the pillow lava deltas would be rather porous but our p-mag expert pointed out that they are likely rather well-consolidated for several reasons. For example, as the deltas form, they are sort of self-packing—a variety of clast sizes are settling and snuggling together as they tumble down and more material is added from above. In addition, some large clasts (pillows) could still be somewhat plastic and deform to fit the space provided them, almost welding together. Depending on the dissolved gases in the lava, its temperature, and the ambient pressure at the locus of emplacement (and maybe some other parameters), the crust of the growing lobes and pillows of lava fractures into tiny glassy quenched bits (hyaloclastite) that serve to fill any interstices in the delta. This hyaloclastite can dominate the delta by volume, leaving the delta matrix supported, and when the hyaloclastite devitrifies, lots of clay minerals are produced further reducing the hydraulic conductivity of the dam (an turning some portions of the dam tan-orange in color—see photo). In contrast, Crow et al. (2008) identified actual cinders in the presumed abutments of some of their lava dams and they even called some dams “sieves” rather than dams. Depending on how these pyroclastics in the Grand Canyon were emplaced, they could provide the necessary porosity to accommodate the discharge and stabilize the lake height. How about that? Are there other models you can think of to explain the outcrops?

In regards to Dr. Jerque’s questions about the timing of individual incursions of lava into the river and the total lifespan of the obstruction created, I think the dams are built quickly. The vents supplying lava to the intracanyon lava flows are monogenetic and probably have a life span of months, years, or perhaps tens of years, but not hundreds of years. From my understanding of Snake River Plain volcanism and the experience of those such as our p-mag expert, these lava flows could easily erupt, flow across the uplands, and build a dam in a few months or maybe several years. During that time, individual pulses of lava (flow units, cooling units, surges, etc.) added to the obstructions created by the first lavas in a tug of war battle with the rising lakes. The multiple (and rising in elevation) passage zones at Weeping Wall and WC at tell us this. The resulting dam is so geologically instantaneous that it makes sense to me to model it mostly as a single event. The details of the passage zone elevations, relative amounts of subaerial vs subaqueous lava, and volume of hyaloclastite tell us some of the juicy details of the event but in terms of the ~2 Ma history of the river available to us to model I would consider it one event. Even in the case of the SB dam, where there are two clearly different advances into the canyon (that potentially could be separated by a lot of time) we do nto see any different in age with the p-mag. We also do not see any fluvial deposits intercalated within the dam architecture that would suggest a long time interval (1000s to 10000s of years). What do you think?

One of my thesis’ objectives was to try to add data to, and refine, lava dam emplacement and breaching models (and the associated hazards) by trying to study how the rate of lava effusion into a river interacts with the river’s discharge and channel morphology to influence the structure and stability of lava dams. This objective was often overshadowed by the larger objective of just trying to figure out what he-ack is going on out there and distinguish the lava flows from one another but I do think that there is enough data to address the matter in the paper I am putting together on the lava flows.



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