Hot lava + cold water = the potential for lava bombs, flying molten rock balls. For scientists who study the dynamics of this violent combination, it’s much safer to set up controlled experiments than to study it in Hawaii or Iceland where Kilauea and Eyjafjallajökull have their own uncontrollable agendas.
Solution: Make homemade magma and use high-speed cameras to record the results. This is the explosive work of volcanologist Ingo Sonder and his team, who hope that better understanding of the phenomenon can help keep volcano-adjacent populations safer.
First, Dr. Sonder and his colleagues got black chunks of ancient solidified lava, called basalt, from a quarry in Texas. They poured about 120 pounds of basalt into a crucible inside a furnace. Over four hours, with a few occasional stirs, the furnace heated the rocks to about 2,400 degrees Fahrenheit, until the basalt became a bubbling molten mix.
Donning silver thermal suits to protect against the intense heat and radiation, the researchers then poured 10 gallons of glowing goop into a series of insulated steel boxes… The walls of the steel containers had injectors designed to spray pressurized water into the piping hot lava.
See the results in this Science Take video from The New York Times.
Related lava bomb listening from our friends at Tumble, a science podcast for kids: What Would Earth Be Like If Volcanoes Didn’t Exist?Then, see how USGS scientists monitor Kilauea Volcano’s ongoing eruptions on site and how volcano-bots might help study volcanoes.