Pillow lava refers to a type of volcanic rock formation that is characterized by its distinctive pillow-like or bulbous shapes. Pillow lava forms when molten lava erupts underwater or flows into a body of water, such as the ocean. The rapid cooling of the lava due to contact with water leads to the formation of rounded, pillow-shaped structures.
Key points about pillow lava include:
- Formation: Pillow lava forms when lava erupts into a body of water, such as the ocean, a lake, or even a submerged lava tube. The outer surface of the lava cools rapidly upon contact with the water, causing it to solidify and contract, forming a skin. As the still-molten interior continues to flow, it pushes against the solidified skin, creating a bulbous, pillow-like shape.
- Characteristic Shape: Pillow lava structures have a characteristic rounded or pillow-like appearance, with each pillow being connected to adjacent pillows by narrow necks or lobes. This shape is a result of the lava’s interaction with water, which cools and solidifies the outer layer more quickly than the interior.
- Volcanic Environments: Pillow lava formations are common in submarine volcanic environments, such as mid-ocean ridges and seafloor spreading centers. They can also be found in areas where lava flows enter bodies of water on land.
- Significance: Pillow lavas provide important evidence of past volcanic activity in underwater or subaqueous environments. They are used by geologists to determine the ancient positions of continents, the movement of tectonic plates, and the history of volcanic eruptions.
- Pillow Basalts: The lava that forms pillow lava structures is often basaltic in composition. Basalt is a common volcanic rock type, and when it erupts underwater, it cools rapidly to form pillow lavas.
- Hydrothermal Vents: Pillow lavas are associated with underwater hydrothermal vent systems. These vents are sites of geothermal activity where hot water and minerals are released from the seafloor. Pillow lava formations are often found around these vent systems.
The study of pillow lava formations provides insights into the history of Earth’s volcanic activity and the processes that shape underwater geological landscapes. These formations are valuable indicators of past tectonic and volcanic events, contributing to our understanding of the Earth’s dynamic geology.