Tuesday , January 26 2021

See researchers low and explode lava to study volcanoes

An intense reaction occurs when water is injected into molten rock.

Douglas Levere / University at Buffalo

Not satisfied with just seeing that the substances exploded out of volcanoes, researchers at the University of Buffalo have made their own lava – just to see it explode.

The research, published November 10th in JGR Solid Earth, describes a set of experiments that the team conducted to understand how volcanoes, full of magma, naturally interact with water. Sometimes when the two forces collide, nothing happens, but sometimes you get an amazing magma-water explosion. The research group wanted to find out why that could happen.

To learn more about this strange interaction, called "phreatomagmatic eruptions" in natural volcanoes, the team built ovens and filled them with rocks and heated materials up to about 2,400 degrees Fahrenheit. Once the rock had melted, they would pour it into a steel box and then inject it with water jets.

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

The results speak for themselves:

Sometimes, lava-water interactions will give intense explosive activity, and sometimes the water will mostly evaporate without generating any large volcanic eruptions. In addition, the team had to use a stamp driven by a standard hammer that would stimulate a reaction – and a lava explosion.

By varying the height of the steel container, lava was contained and the rate at which water was injected enabled researchers to study together what could turn off a spontaneous water-lava interaction.

They showed that higher steel containers and faster water injection generally corresponded to the biggest explosions – and in four of their six experiments there were explosions even before the stamp was dropped. However, due to the small amount of repetition attempt, the researchers are careful with only the early days.

It is hoped that the experiments can provide better tools to predict when or how volcanic eruptions can occur. But before drawing more significant conclusions about the dynamics of this particular explosive process in real volcanoes, the team accepts more experiments.

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