National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 2002

The chemistry of lava-seawater interactions II: The elemental signature

Resing, J.A., and F.J. Sansone

Geochim. Cosmochim. Acta, 66(11), 1925–1941, doi: 10.1016/S0016-7037(01)00897-3 (2002)

The flow of lava into the ocean at the shoreline of Kilauea Volcano during the ongoing Pu'u O'o eruption has allowed a detailed study of the geochemical interaction between lava and seawaver. This paper focuses on the chemistry of the major and minor elements in the fluids that resulted from this interaction. The elemental enrichments in these fluids are dominated by three processes: (1) evaporation of water from seawater, which creates solutions enriched in the major elements found in seawater, (2) congruent dissolution of the basalt glass matrix, which is limited by the solubility of some of the elements in seawater, and (3) removal of volatile phases from the lava on contact with seawater.

Using a simple model of volatile emanation (using published emanation coefficients) and congruent dissolution, we are able to explain the concentrations observed for the majority of elements in precipitation from the steam plume at the shoreline lava entry and in water allowed to interact with molten lava in controlled experiments. Fe, Al, Ti, and some of the rare earth elements (REEs) in precipitation samples from the steam plume at the lava entry were >10,000-times enriched over the ambient seawater concentrations, suggesting that these elements may be useful for identifying submarine eruptions. The flux of elements from the Kilauea ocean lava entry is greater than that from a typical midocean ridge hydrothermal vent field for Al, Cd, Co, and the REEs, whereas the opposite is true for the remainder of the elements studied.

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