Surface movements of emplaced lava flows measured by synthetic aperture radar interferometry

Stevens, N.F.; Wadge, G.; Williams, C.A.; Muller, J.-P.; Morley, J.G.; Murray, J.B. and Upton, M. (2001). Surface movements of emplaced lava flows measured by synthetic aperture radar interferometry. Journal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth, 106(B6) pp. 11293–11314.



Lava flows continue to move after they have been emplaced by flow mechanisms. This movement is largely vertical and can be detected using differential synthetic aperture radar (SAR) interferometry. There are three main components to this motion: (1) movement of surface scatterers, resulting in radar phase decorrelation, (2) measurable subsidence of the flow surface due to thermal contraction and clast repacking, and (3) time-dependent depression of the flow substrate. These effects act in proportion to the thickness of the lava flow and decay with time, although there is a time lag before the third component becomes significant. We explore these effects using SAR data from the ERS satellites over the Etna volcano, Sicily. Phase decorrelation on young, thick a’a lava flows persists for a few years and probably results from surface block rotations during flow contraction. Maximum measured subsidence rates of the 1991–1993 lava flow over a period of 70 days are about 0.7 mm day−1, but are potentially greater in areas of data decorrelation. These rates fall to <2.7×10−2 mm day−1 after about 20 years in flows about 50 m thick, sooner for thinner flows. Comparison with measured subsidence rates on Kilauean lava lakes suggests that thermal contraction only accounts for about one third of the observed subsidence. The remaining motion is thought to come from surface clast repacking during cooling and from creep mechanisms in the flow substrate. Measurements of postemplacement surface movement provide new constraints on the thermomechanical properties of lava flows and have cautionary implications for the interpretation of interferometric SAR data of volcanoes. © 2001 American Geophysical Union.

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