Tuesday , January 26 2021

Watch scientists make and explode lava to study volcanoes

A strong reaction occurs after the water is injected into a molten rock.

Douglas Lever / University of Buffalo

You are not content to simply watch how volcanic volcanoes explode, scientists from the University of Buffalo have created their own lava – just to watch it explode.

The study, published on November 10 in JGR Solid Earth, describes a set of experiments the team is conducting to understand how volcanoes filled with magma naturally interact with water. Sometimes, when the two forces collide, nothing happens at all, but sometimes a fantastic explosion of magma-water occurs. The research team wanted to know why this could happen.

To learn more about this strange interaction, called "frenomagmatic eruptions" in natural volcanoes, the team built ovens and filled them with stones, heating the materials to about 2400 degrees Fahrenheit. Once the rock melts, it will be poured into a steel box and then sprayed with water jets.

And then they will wait – and hope for an explosion.

The results speak for themselves:

Sometimes interactions between lava and water would lead to intense explosive activity, and in other cases, water will evaporate mostly without generating a huge volcanic eruption. Besides, sometimes the team had to use a piston driven by a standard hammer to stimulate a reaction – and a lava explosion.

By altering the height of the ladle's steel container and the speed at which water was injected, the researchers could begin to collect together what might spontaneously interact with water lava.

They showed that higher steel containers and faster water spraying usually responded to the biggest explosions – and in four of their six experiments, explosions even before the plunger was released. However, due to the small number of repeated experiments, the researchers warn that this is only in the early days.

We hope that experiments can provide better tools for predicting when and how volcanic eruptions may occur. However, before making more serious conclusions about the dynamics of this particular explosive process in real volcanoes, the team agrees that more experiments are needed.

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