Lava Flow Emplacement in Harrat Rahat with Implications for Eruptions in Mafic Volcanic Fields

Professional Paper 1862-E
Jointly published with the Saudi Geological Survey [as Saudi Geological Survey Special Report SGS–SP–2021–1]
By: , and 



Mafic volcanic fields are widespread, but few have erupted in historical times, providing limited observations of the magnitudes, dynamics, and timescales of lava flow emplacement in these settings. The Harrat Rahat volcanic field in western Saudi Arabia offers a good opportunity to study eruptions in such a setting, with a historical eruption in 1256 C.E. (654 in the year of the Hijra) and numerous well-preserved late Pleistocene lava flows. We combine historical observations and rheological and morphological analyses of the youngest flows with analytical models to reconstruct eruptive histories and lava flow emplacement conditions in Harrat Rahat. Petrologic analysis of samples for emplacement temperatures and crystallinities show cooling trends from vent to toe of ~1,140 to ~1,090 degrees Celsius (°C) at rates of 2 to 7 °C per kilometer, crystallinities increasing from 0.5 to 60 volume percent, and apparent viscosities increasing from 102 to 109 pascal seconds. High-resolution topographic data facilitate quantitative analysis of morphology and interpolation of preeruptive surfaces to measure flow thicknesses, channels, and levees, and enable calculation of eruptive volumes. Analytical models relating flow morphology to emplacement conditions are applied to estimate effusion rates. Within the suite of studied flows, minimum volume estimates range from 0.07 to 0.42 cubic kilometers dense rock equivalent, with effusion rates on the order of tens to hundreds of cubic meters per second and durations from 1 to 15 weeks. These integrated analyses quantify past lava flow emplacement conditions and dynamics in Harrat Rahat, improving our understanding and observations of fundamental parameters and controls of effusive eruptions in Harrat Rahat and other mafic volcanic fields.

Suggested Citation

Dietterich, H.R., Downs, D.T., and Stelten, M.E., 2023, Lava flow emplacement in Harrat Rahat with implications for eruptions in mafic volcanic fields, chap. E of Sisson, T.W., Calvert, A.T., and Mooney, W.D., eds., Active volcanism on the Arabian Shield—Geology, volcanology, and geophysics of northern Harrat Rahat and vicinity, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia: U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 1862 [also released as Saudi Geological Survey Special Report SGS–SP–2021–1], 49 p.,

ISSN: 2330-7102 (online)

ISSN: 1044-9612 (print)

Study Area

Table of Contents

  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • Geologic Setting
  • Methods
  • Results
  • Analysis of Emplacement Conditions
  • Discussion
  • Conclusions
  • Acknowledgments
  • References Cited
  • Appendix 1. Samples for X-ray Fluorescence Analysis
  • Appendix 2. Samples for Textural Analysis
  • Appendix 3. Microprobe Analyses of Glass in Harrat Rahat Basaltic Lava Flows
  • Appendix 4. Microprobe Analyses of Plagioclase in Harrat Rahat Basaltic Lava Flows
  • Appendix 5. Microprobe Analyses of Olivine in Harrat Rahat Basaltic Lava Flows
  • Appendix 6. Geothermometry Results and Sample Locations
Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Lava flow emplacement in Harrat Rahat with implications for eruptions in mafic volcanic fields
Series title Professional Paper
Series number 1862
Chapter E
DOI 10.3133/pp1862E
Year Published 2023
Language English
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location Reston, VA
Contributing office(s) Volcano Science Center
Description vi, 49 p.
Country Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
Other Geospatial northeastern Harrat Rahat
Online Only (Y/N) N
Additional Online Files (Y/N) N
Google Analytic Metrics Metrics page
Additional publication details