As Hawaii's Kilauea Volcano continues to regurgitate molten rock, the US Geological Survey continues to publish astonishingly terrifying photos and videos of lava spewing into the air and taking over the land. Lava is burning, glows bright orange, and has the power to engulf anything that comes its way. So what would happen if you touch it?
The lava coming out of Kilauea is over 2,100 degrees Fahrenheit (about 1,170 degrees Celsius). "It's much hotter than anything you can have in your kitchen at home," says Erik Klemetti, assistant professor of geosciences at Denison University. Dipping your hand in molten rock won't kill you instantly, but it will cause severe and painful burns, "the kind that destroys nerve endings and boils subcutaneous fat," says David Damby, research chemist at the USGS Volcano Science Center. in an email to The Verge.
"Now, falling into lava is another story"
The extreme heat will likely burn your lungs and cause your organs to fail. "The water in the body would probably boil as steam, all while the lava melts the body from the outside," says Damby. (Don't worry, the volcanic gases will probably knock you out.) But unlike one of the characters in the 1997 movie Volcano or Gollum in The Lord of the Rings, you wouldn't sink and liquefy like the Wicked Witch. from the West, says Klemetti, who wrote about those scenes in a 2011 Wired article. Lava may look like liquid, but it's not like water: it's too sticky and slimy. "So you'd be sitting on the flow," says Janine Krippner, a volcanologist at Concord University.
The thickness of the lava is the same reason why volcanologists trying to take samples do not use buckets. Instead, they plunge rock hammers into molten rock, extracting curdled magma for testing. "It's not like going to a stream and putting a bucket in the water," says Klemetti. "The bucket just sits on top of the lava flow." In fact, lava solidifies quickly, forming a black crust on top that is quite robust - robust enough, for example, to support the weight of this type running through a lava flow on Mount Etna in Italy. (But don't try this yourself)
That crust is sharp too. Most lava-related injuries occur when people walk on cooled lava and scratch themselves, Damby says. That's what happened to Krippner a decade ago when he was doing field work on a volcano in New Zealand. She stepped on some hardened lava that rolled under her feet, causing it to tumble onto the sharp rocks. "It was not a massively severe cut." It healed, but I had a small dent in my leg, "he says.
Lava is scary, but it is not the most dangerous during an eruption. Lava usually flows very slowly, so you have time to "quickly" get away from it, says Damby. (In 1977, however, high-speed lava from Nyiragongo volcano in the Democratic Republic of the Congo killed nearly 300 people as it passed through nearby towns.) The real danger comes from volcanic mudflows, also called lahars, he says. Krippner. These are essentially landslides of volcanic material and debris that have the consistency of concrete and can run down a volcano at more than 120 miles per hour (200 km / h). In 1985, a lahar caused by the Nevado del Ruiz volcano in Colombia submerged an entire city, killing 25,000 people. "In most cases, you can't get over them," says Krippner.
"A deadly combination of heat, noxious gas and impacts"
Then there are pyroclastic flows, which are apocalyptic clouds of gases, rocks, and other volcanic debris that travel at speeds in excess of 50 miles per hour (80 km / h) and at temperatures between 390 and 1,300 degrees Fahrenheit (200 to 700 degrees) Celsius. ). If you find yourself in a pyroclastic flow, like the people of Pompeii in AD 79, you will probably suffocate to death or get crushed by a flying rock (like this poor guy in Pompeii). "They are a lethal combination of heat, noxious gases and impacts," says Damby.
Although lava flows are not that dangerous, they still need to be taken seriously. In Hawaii, lava from the Kilauea volcano eruption has destroyed at least 82 homes, according to Reuters. No one has died, but "a man's leg was shattered when he was hit by a super-dense lava splash," Reuters reports.
So please walk away and don't touch her. Also, don't roast marshmallows, says the USGS. But you can admire how incredibly fascinating lava is. "We think rocks are very permanent, but here is the molten rock coming out of the ground," says Klemetti. "It's hard not to be fascinated by the idea that somewhere underground there are processes that can melt the interior of the Earth and spit it out on the surface."
By Alessandra Potenza
Original article (in English)