Do you know your a’a from pahoehoe? These are the two types of lava flows

I wanted to update this blast from the past post, Pahoehoe and A’a Lava, with some great videos that help illustrate how these two types of lava form.


Hardened Pahoehoe Lava Flow

There are two distinct types of hardened lava you’ll likely see in Hawaii — pahoehoe and a’a. These are Hawaiian names that have been adopted universally for describing the two main types of lava.

Pahoehoe (pronounced like “pah hoy hoy”) is a smooth lava produced when lava flows slowly and gently. A’a (pronounced like “ah ah”) is a very rough and rugged lava that is produced when lave flows quickly. Here are some photos that will help you distinguish the two types of lava.


Now, here’s a video we shot while “chasing lava” in a 2017 flow from Kilauea on the Big Island of Hawaii.


The photo below shows an a’a lava flow. Notice the rough texture on top. It is believed that the name a’a came from the noises someone might make while walking over it in bare feet. Maybe an alternative name should be ouch’ouch or ow’ow. 🙂

A’a Lava Flow (Photo use per Wikimedia Commons)

With the 2022 eruption at Mauna Loa, KHON2 published a nice segment on the two types of lava. Watch that video for spectacular scenes of an a’a lava flow, plus an interesting interview with a volcano expert.

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