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Name: Mohammad Haikal Bin Mohammad Isa

ID No: 12003

Course: Structural Geology

Program: Petroleum Geoscience

Year: 1 st year 2 nd Semester .

Subject : Assignment 2: Formation of Columnar Joints in

Volcanic Rocks.
Formation of Columnar Joint in Volcanic Rock

Definition of Columnar Joint

Columnar joint is a specific type of joint pattern. It contains both, petrology and structural
aspects but in here I would like to tell about the structural part only. Columnar joints are the
three dimensional fracture network that form during the cooling of magma/lava flow. Columnar
joint can also occur in sandstone, mud, coal, glass, starch and also ice. The columnar joint that
will be talking about here is basalt columnar joint. Basalt is a common extrusive volcanic rock,
usually grey to black with fine grains. Basalt is chosen simply because the columnar joint is one
of the special characteristics for basalt that is exposed on the surface.

Features of Columnar Joint

Columnar joint is said to be the only natural fracture that approach the optimal hexagonal
honeycomb like pattern. Most of the columnar joint has this type of pattern but sometimes it also
occurs with five, three or eight sides’ polygon. The joint faces show the surface marking called
striae or plumose structure. Striae mean the stretch mark, which is given because the columnar
joint looks like it has been stretched from the bottom to the top. Each of these striae is composed
of smooth and rough band, perpendicular to the direction of joint propagation. According to
Lucas Goehring and Stephen W. Morris from department of physics, University of Toronto,
Canada, stated that the column radius and striae size are proportional to each other but inversely
proportional with the cooling rate of lava. This means that if the column radius is bigger, the
striae size will also bigger but the cooling rate will be shorter. The formation of columnar joint
the relation between column, striae and cooling rate, also the fracture contain on the columnar
joint will be discussed in the next topic.
Columnar Joint Formation

Before we understand about this joint, let us know some facts about basalt first. Basalt solidifies
completely at temperatures below about 1200°C. When exposed to the surface, the hot layer of
rock then continues to cool to temperatures normal for the Earth’s surface. During cooling state,
the basalt’s particle vibrates slower as compared to when the basalt is hot. Thus particles
property cause the basalt to contract while cooling, causing the formation of what we called the
columnar joint here.

During the formation of columnar joint, the hot body that cool faster on the outside causing the
rock to contract at higher degree on the outside as compared with the inside. This process causes
the formation or development of tensile stress between the hot and the cooler part of the rocks,
causing it to crack. By quoting the internet information, “These stresses are directly parallel to
the isothermal planes within the body, with the cracks perpendicular to the isothermal plane. The
direction of crack propagation is also important and from studying the striae, as described in the
features, it has been found that the cracks propagate inward from and perpendicular to the
cooling surface”. What this quotation means is the stress applied will cause the cracks to form
perpendicular to the isothermal plane, and the cracks will form from the outside, and grew
towards inside. This is because during the cooling process, the outermost part will come into
contact with the earth’s surface first, causing it to cool faster than the inside part. Thus, the
contraction and the cracks start from the outside towards the inside. The analogy for this
columnar joint formation is the same as when you baked a bun. When you take the bun out of the
oven, the outer part of the bun will cool first but when you tear the bun into two using your own
hand, the inside is still hot. The tearing is the same as how the cracks formed, in which it is from
the outside and goes toward inside. For the next topic, we will be discussing about the formation
of cracks, fractures and striae with relation to the thermal contraction/expansion.
Cracks, Fractures and Striae Formation

The cracks and fractures occurs when the thermal contraction stresses exceeds or overcome the
yield strength of the rock mass. Thermal contraction/expansion is the tendency for a matter to
change in volume for the response with temperature. This means that when the cooling magma
contract with a greater stresses than the strength/forces that the rock has, the fracture is initiated.
And it will propagate parallel to the cooling body; magma. Grossenber and McDuffie (1995)
stated that the temperature interval is thought to be constant with 53°C for Hawaiian Basalt. This
means that for every striae in the Hawaiian Basalt, there is a decrease of 53°C, representing one
increment of the join propagation. The striae are important in order for us to understand the
environment, the characteristics and what happen during their formation in which later on
produces the columnar joints.

The striae, which is form in every temperature interval, is related with the thermal gradient of the
cooling body, in this case the magma. Thermal gradient means the rate of temperature change
over a distance. In this case, the distance is between the two parts inside the magma. We can say
that if the thermal gradient is steep, the change in temperature is big given a short distance. But
given that the thermal gradient is shallow, the change in temperature is small over a long
distance. What does this have to do with the striae? From the features of columnar joint, we
know that striae can grow with different diameter. This is the relationship. If the gradient is
steep, the change in temperature is too high, causing the striae to have a small diameter. On the
other hand, if the thermal gradient is smaller, the change in temperature is too small, causing the
striae to have a large diameter.
Experiments and Cooling Models

Some debates about formation of columnar joints are still going and has not reach any
conclusion yet. Especially the debate about how heat is transferred from the outer part of the
magma to its inner part. Some said that it is through conduction (heat move through solid
materials), some said convection (heat move through fluids) and there are also people who said
that it is both conduction and convection. In order to understand more about this formation and
reach one possible conclusion, many experiments and models were being set up. In 2004,
Toramaru and Matsumoto from Japan conducted an experiment that explains the inverse
relationship between cooling rate and column width. Below is a quotation of the abstract of the

“An analogue experiment using a starch-water mixture has been carried out in order to
understand the effect of cooling rate on the morphological characteristics of a basalt columnar
joint. If the contraction of material is essential for the formation of columnar joint structure, the
water loss rate by desiccation (hereafter referred to as desiccation rate) in the experiment is
analogous to the cooling rate in solidifying basalt. In the experiment the desiccation rate is
controlled by varying the distance between the starch-water mixture and a lamp used as the heat
source. We find that there are three regimes in the relation between joint formation and
desiccation rate: (1) At desiccation rates higher than ∼1.4 x 10-2 (g cm-2 h-1) (normal columnar
joint regime), the average cross-sectional area S of a column is inversely proportional to the
average desiccation rate, <M> (i.e., S <M>-δ, with δ = 1). (2) Between that desiccation rate and a
critical desiccation rate, 0.8 x 10-2 (g/cm2h), S approaches infinity as <M> decreases close to a
critical desiccation rate (i.e., exponent δ monotonically increases from unity to infinity) (critical
regime). (3) Below the critical desiccation rate, no columnar structure forms (no columnar joint
regime forms). Applying the present experimental result to the formation of basalt column, the
basalt columnar cross-sectional area is inversely proportional to the cooling rate with factors
including elasticity, crack growth coefficient, thermal expansion, glass transition temperature,
and crack density ratio at stress maximum. Also, it can be predicted that there exists a critical
cooling rate below which the columnar joint does not form; the presence of a critical regime
between the normal columnar jointing and no columnar jointing during a certain cooling rate
range can also be predicted. We find that at higher cooling rate the preferred column shape is a
pentagon, whereas at lower cooling rate it is a hexagon.”

Before the starch-water experiment is conducted, Budkewitsch and Robin (1994) proposed a
conductive-convective combination where the convecting medium is water, mixed water and
vapour, volcanic gas or air. A year later, in 1995, Grossenbacher and McDuffie proposed a solely
conductive model. This new model predicts that the ratio of stria width to column diameter is
nearly constant and that column diameter and stria width increase inward from the boundaries of
the rock mass. Both of these predictions are supported by the structure of columnar joints in the
Makaopuhi Crater at Kilauea Volcano, Hawaii. This column they are used as their supported has
a diameter of one foot at the top and twelve feet depth. Grossenbacher also stated that the
mathematical analysis supports his conductive cooling model.

Further inspection and investigation, however reveals that the heat loss is through two
mechanisms. First is conduction toward the cooler joint inside the flow and second is convection
out of the flow through the cracks when cooling front is over a certain distance into the interior
of the cooling body. From this investigation, it is more reliable to say that the conduction model
is valid close to the edges of the body while the conductive-convective model is valid for the
interior. The first model shows that heat is removed from the interior of the cooling body through
the crack network of the columnar joints. The combination of these two models is the one used to
study the columnar joint before the starch-water experiment.
Examples of Columnar Joints