Field characteristics and erosional processess associated with komatiitic lavas: Implications for flow behavior

R. A.F. Cas, S. W. Beresford

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

27 Citations (Scopus)


Although komatiitic lavas have long been depicted as turbulent flows, especially near the vent, field characteristics indicate that many komatiitic lavas did not flow turbulently, or only initially so. The bases of komatiites are commonly conformable with their substrate, including fine pelitic sediments, and the margins of komatiites are overwhelmingly coherent, or marked by local quench-fragmented hyaloclastite breccia. Autobreccias are notably missing. These characteristics are not consistent with turbulent flow, but clearly indicate conditions of laminar flow. If komatiitic flows were turbulent, they should commonly have scoured into substrate sediments through a variety of physical erosion processes, including foundering into underlying seafloor sediments, because of density inversion, and turbulence-induced scouring of sediments. These features are not commonly developed, also indicating that generally komatiites were emplaced under tranquil, laminar-flow conditions. Trough-like structures that commonly host nickel sulfide mineralization have commonly been interpreted to originate by thermal erosion of substrate by the komatiitic lava. The evidence supporting thermal erosion is not strong, and commonly ambiguous. Trough structures at Kambalda, Western Australia, are fault bounded, as noted by several previous investigators. However, there is a common, but not universal, antithetic relationship between trough presence and sediment absence. Removal of sediment from troughs could be explained by physical erosion, with an initial narrow, turbulent flow-head scouring a channel in the underlying sediments. As the lava flows spread laterally, their flow-front velocity decreased, and flow became laminar, so explaining the conformable contacts with substrate and the presence of coherent crusts represented by the random spinifex textural zone. Thermal erosion was rare, and could only have resulted beneath sustained lava tubes, within the flow interior, not from the flow head.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)505-524
Number of pages20
JournalCanadian Mineralogist
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2001


  • Field characteristics
  • Komatiites
  • Laminar flow
  • Physical erosion

Cite this