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Durham University

Department of Earth Sciences


Publication details for Dr Richard James Brown

Phillips, J.C., Humphreys, M.C.S., Daniels, K.A., Brown, R.J. & Witham, F. (2013). The formation of columnar joints produced by cooling in basalt at Staffa, Scotland. Bulletin of Volcanology 75(6): 715.

Author(s) from Durham


Columnar jointing in basaltic lava flows on the island of Staffa, NW Scotland, was studied using a combination of field mapping and measurement of column dimensions, sample petrology and measurements of plagioclase crystal size distributions (CSDs) interpreted using theoretical models of cooling. Four different lava flow units were measured, and column ordering was assessed using the hexagonality index and relative standard deviations of column side length, top area and internal angle. Upper and lower colonnades consist of dominantly 5-, 6- and 7-sided columns, with a hexagonality index value very similar to that of Giant’s Causeway and other basaltic columnar jointed localities. CSDs from samples at different heights within one colonnade were used to infer the propagation of the solidus isotherm, which was consistent with a convective cooling mechanism within the colonnade interior. Sample petrology and CSD measurements suggest that entablature can form both by the interaction of propagating joint sets and flooding of the flow surface by water, and the most widely exposed unit on Staffa shows evidence of both mechanisms operating on the same flow. Crystal size distribution measurements can provide a useful tool for field interpretation of lava flow cooling mechanisms.