In this study, connections between chemical composition, eruption style, and topographic features of two shield volcanoes on the Snake River Plain, Idaho are examined. These relationships may then be applied to understanding silicate volcanic features throughout the inner solar system. Despite their similar ages and geographic locations, two young basaltic shield volcanoes—Kimama Butte (87 Ka) and Rocky Butte (95 Ka)—have strikingly different topographic profiles. The Kimama Butte shield has a diameter of 9 km and a height of 210 m. In contrast, Rocky Butte has a broad 36 km topographic shield that rises 140 m with less than 1° slopes. The vent crater at Rocky Butte developed as a large lava blister inflated and then collapsed forming a crater in which a lava lake developed. Little spatter accumulated throughout the eruption. In contrast, high spatter mounds and spatter-fed flows flank the main summit crater at Kimama Butte. Major- and trace-element compositions of the basaltic lavas are similar at the two shields, but distinct in Ni and Al2O3. The lavas range in TiO2 concentrations from 2.6–4.5 wt.% for Kimama Butte and 2.6–4.3 wt.% for Rocky Butte. These ranges can be related to magma evolution by fractional crystallization involving plagioclase and olivine without clinopyroxene. Compositions of the pre-eruptive phenocrysts are also similar at both shields but show variation with evolution. Olivine cores in the more primitive lavas are more Mg-rich (Fo80-72) than those in the evolved rocks (Fo65-55). Plagioclase cores are similarly more calcic in the more primitive flows (An78-68) than in the evolved ones (An65-52). Like other olivine-tholeiites on the Snake River Plain, the fO2 and fH2O were probably low with fO2 at -2△QFM and 0.1 wt.% H2O. Pressure of crystallization estimated from MELTS models is less than 3 kbar (~10 km deep). Calculated temperatures and magma viscosities overlap at both Kimama Butte (1226 to1147°C and 158 to14 Pa·s) and Rocky Butte (1251 to 1145°C and 75 to 8 Pa·s). However, Kimama Butte magma viscosities extend ~80 Pa·s higher than those for Rocky Butte lavas. The higher magma viscosities are the result of higher phenocryst proportions in spatter and spatter-fed lavas concentrated near the vent. Because lava temperature, volatile content, and chemical composition overlap at the two volcanoes, they are probably not important controls of shield-volcano morphology. This suggests that steep-capped shields are not created as a simple function of having more silicic lavas. Melt viscosities are also similar, but Rocky Butte lacks the phenocryst-rich (>30 vol %), higher magma viscosity lavas and the high spatter ramparts that form the cap at Kimama Butte. Thus, we conclude that eruption style and phenocryst content play the most important role in developing a low-shield volcano summit. Where eruptions shifted from lava lake overflow and tube development to late fountaining with short spatter-fed phenocryst-rich flows, steeper, higher shields develop.



College and Department

Physical and Mathematical Sciences; Geological Sciences



Date Submitted


Document Type





basalt, shield volcano, geochemistry, geomorphology, eruption style, Snake River Plain, Quaternary