Scientists Will Combine Water And Lava To Watch Them Explode

Research in upstate New York will find out why the two just don’t mix

Yes, it’s hot outside. But things are about to get even hotter. Or cooler, depending on how you look at it.

Lava Pour

A lava experiment in action.

Later this summer, the University at Buffalo’s Center for GeoHazards Studies will start a series of experiments not only melting rocks down into lava, but also causing explosions.

Volcanologist Ingo Sonder and colleagues will be melting hundreds of gallons of basalt over the course of the late summer through the fall.

That would be awesome enough–their neighboring institution, Syracuse, has done some amazing work with their own lava project. But the plan at Buffalo is to take the lava experiments one step further — merely by adding water.

See, water and lava don’t always play nice together (though there are always exceptions to the rule). When they meet—either as water vapor in magma, or a volcano erupting under a glacier—the results tend to be explosive. But exactly why and how this happens remains a mystery, one that Sonder and company will attempt to solve.

“The eruption at Eyjafjallajökull was more explosive due to the presence of water,” Sonder, said. “Events like that don’t happen often, but there is a threat of a big impact when they do. As geologists, we want to understand the conditions that generate explosions — how much water do you need? How much time?”

Sonder and his colleagues will be injecting water into the melt to see what happens under different scenarios. We can’t wait to see more.

Raw Materials

Basalt rocks ready to be turned back into lava.

Preparation

Chipping cooled lava (rock) off the interior of the furnace.

Lava

Lava in this furnace is heated to 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit over the course of 3-4 hours.

Pouring

Research scientist Ingo Sonder