Pillow Lava

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Pillow lava is a mass of lava formed on the seabed in the shape of rounded pillows.

Fluid lava erupted or flowing under water may form a special structure called pillow lava. Such structures form when molten lava breaks through the thin walls of underwater tubes, squeezes out like toothpaste, and quickly solidifies as irregular, tongue-like protrusions. This process is repeated countless times, and the resulting protrusions stack one upon another as the lava flow advances underwater. The term pillow comes from the observation that these stacked protrusions are sack- or pillow-shaped in cross section. Typically ranging from less than a foot to several feet in diameter, each pillow has a glassy outer skin formed by the rapid cooling of the lava by water. Much pillow lava is erupted under relatively high pressure created by the weight of the overlying water; there is little or no explosive interaction between hot lava and cold water. The bulk of the submarine part of a Hawaiian volcano is composed of pillow lavas.[1][2]


  1. Tilling, Heliker, and Wright (1987)
  2. Glossary of Volcano and Related Terminology


  • Pellant, Chris. The Complete Book of Rocks and Minerals, Dorling Kindersley Inc.: New York (1995)