Mafic lava flows are common; for this reason, they have long been a focus of volcanological studies. However, field studies of both older and active flows have been hampered by difficulties in field access; active flows are hot, whereas older flows have rough and jagged surfaces that are difficult to traverse. As a result, morphometric studies of lava flows have generally lagged behind theoretical studies of flow behavior. The advent of laser scanning (LS) (i.e., lidar, light detection and ranging) technologies, both airborne mapping (ALSM) and terrestrial (TLS), is promoting detailed studies of lava flows by generating data suitable for production of high-resolution digital elevation models (DEMs). These data are revolutionizing both the visual and quantitative analysis of lava flows. First and foremost, this technology allows accurate mapping of flow boundaries, particularly in vegetated areas where bare earth imaging dramatically improves mapping capabilities. Detailed imaging of flow surfaces permits mapping and measurement of flow components, such as channels, surface folds, cracks, blocks, and surface roughness. Differencing of preeruptive and posteruptive DEMs allows analysis of flow thickness variations, which can be related to the dynamics of lava emplacement. Multitemporal imaging of active flows provides information not only on the rates and locations of individual flow lobes, but also measurement of pulsed lava transport. Together these new measurement capabilities can be used to test proposed models of channel formation, lava tube formation, rates of flow advance, and flow conditions within lava channels; they also provide new ways to assess the hazard and risk posed by lava flow inundation. Early published studies illustrate the potential of applying lidar to volcanic terrain; it is clear, however, that the availability of high-resolution digital topography is poised to revolutionize the study of mafic lava flows.
- Received 31 March 2011.
- Revision received 6 September 2011.
- Accepted 7 September 2011.
- © Geological Society of America