Planetary Research

Rheology of Lava Flows on Mars

My former undergraduate research student David Lahowetz and I worked with Dr. David Crown of the Planetary Science Institute ( to determine the fluid properties of lava flows on Mars. We measured the spacing of compressional ridges on lava flow surfaces from high-resolution digital elevation models. These data were then used in models of lava flow formation to estimate fluid parameters such as viscosity and yield strength, which can help us determine the nature of the eruptions that produced the flows.

Roughness of Mafic Lava Flows on Earth and Mars

My former masters student Davitia James developed a new approach for determining the roughness of basaltic lava flows at Amboy Crater (CA) and Kilauea Volcano (HI). She is now applying her technique to lava flows on Mars. Here is a poster presentation of her work from the 2018 Lunar and Planetary Science Conference.

Origins of Pitted Cones in the Isidis Planitia of Mars

My good friend and colleague Rebecca Ghent (Planetary Science Institute) and I published a paper on the origin of thousands of small cones with summit pits that are common in the Isidis Planitia region of Mars. This work was published in the journal Icarus (see Ghent et al., 2012 in publications).

Modeling the Interiors of Planetary Lava Flows

Following up on the wax work described below, I worked with my colleagues at the Jet Propulsion Lab to apply a complex fluid dynamics model to investigate how lava moves beneath a cooled surface crust. The work sheds some light on how the interiors of lava flows behave. This work was published in the Journal of Geophysical Research – Earth Surface (Diniega et al., 2013 – see Publications).

Wax modeling of lava flows to better understand volcanism on Mars

In the early 2000’s I received a grant from the NASA Mars Fundamental Research Program to investigate some of the basic processes that influence the flow of lava on Mars. We made flows of wax that we viewed from the underside of the tank to better understand how fluids flow beneath cooled crusts, one of the main ways lavas behave on other planets. I published this work in 2005 as a chapter in a book on experimental research in volcanology (see Anderson et. al., 2005 in publications).

Statistical distribution of tumuli on pahoehoe flow surfaces; Potential applications to lava flows on Mars

I worked with colleagues at Proxemy Research to determine the statistical distribution of tumuli on Hawaiian lava flows. and applied our results to some potential lava flows on Mars (See Glaze et al., 2005 in Publications)

 The unique radar scattering characteristics of terrestrial and planetary lava dome surfaces

One of the papers that stemmed from a grant we received from NASA’s Venus Data Analysis Program focused on how the block sizes, topography and chemistry of silicic domes on Earth are truly unique in the solar system. These rocky surfaces were found to be among the roughest in the solar system. This work was published in the Journal of Geophysical Research – Planets with my colleagues from the Jet Propulsion Lab (see Plaut et ., 2004 in Publications).

 Steep-sided domes on Venus

In the early 1990’s a team of researchers from JPL, led by Ellen Stofan, asked me to be a part of a NASA Venus Data Analysis Program grant to study the origin of steep-sided domes on Venus. Also known as “pancake domes”, these huge flows have a planform that looks like someone tossed gigantic (15 miles across) pancakes made of lava all over the planet. In 2000, we published the most comprehensive analysis of the formation of these features to date in the Journal of Geophysical Research, and this work is still cited frequently today (See Stofan et al., 2000 in Publications).

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