Lava-Rise Plateaus and Inflation Pits in the McCartys Lava Flow Field, New Mexico: An Analog for Pāhoehoe-Like Lava Flows on Planetary Surfaces

Christopher W. Hamilton, Stephen P. Scheidt, Michael M. Sori, Andrew P. de Wet, Jacob E. Bleacher, Peter J. Mouginis-Mark, Stephen Self, James R. Zimbelman, W. Brent Garry, Patrick L. Whelley, Larry S. Crumpler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Basaltic lava flows are common on the surface of the Earth and other terrestrial bodies. However, inflation—including a combination of initially rapid molten core thickening and gradual crustal growth—must be accounted for to enable accurate reconstructions of eruption parameters from observed lava flow morphologies. The shape of an inflated lava flow can change significantly over time. Therefore, incorrectly attributing the flow's final thickness to its dimensions in an initially fully molten state will yield excessively high flow rates, erroneous rheological properties, and unreasonably short eruption durations. To develop improved criteria for identifying inflated lava flows, we examined the McCartys lava flow field in New Mexico, USA. This locality provides an example of how pāhoehoe-like lava lobes can coalesce and coinflate to form interconnected lava-rise plateaus with internal inflation pits. These structures were examined using a combination of field observations, low-altitude kite-based imaging, and quantitative geomorphology using high-resolution (1.47 cm/pixel) orthomosaics and stereo-derived digital terrain models. These observations were used to identify characteristics and diagnostics of inflation, thereby facilitating the interpretation of comparable landforms on other planetary surfaces. Lava-cooling models were also used to estimate the lava emplacement duration of the ~20-m-thick flows by demonstrating that the ~8-m-thick upper crust exposed within inflation clefts in the southern part of the McCartys lava flow field would have required 1.2–2.5 years of continuous lava supply to form. This places a minimum bound on the total eruption duration, and implies that comparably thick inflated flows on Mars required years to form.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2019JE005975
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Planets
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 1 2020


  • Mars
  • McCartys
  • inflation
  • lava
  • photogrammetry
  • volcanism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Geophysics
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science


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