Falling into lava would be a pretty hot mess

Jun 5, 2018

By Alessandra Potenza

As Hawaii’s Kīlauea volcano keeps regurgitating molten rock, the US Geological Service continues to post amazingly terrifying photos and videos of lava spewing up in the air and taking over land. The lava is scorching hot, it glows bright orange, and it has the power to gobble up anything that crosses its path. So, what would happen if you touched it?

The lava coming out of Kīlauea is over 2,100 degrees Fahrenheit (about 1,170 degrees Celsius). “It’s much hotter than anything you’d get in your stove at home,” says Erik Klemetti, assistant professor of geosciences at Denison University. Dipping your hand into molten rock won’t kill you instantly, but it will give you severe, painful burns — “the kind that destroy nerve endings and boil subcutaneous fat,” says David Damby, a research chemist at the USGS Volcano Science Center, in an email to The Verge.

Now, falling into lava is another story. The extreme heat would probably burn your lungs and cause your organs to fail. “The water in the body would probably boil to steam, all while the lava is melting the body from the outside in,” Damby says. (No worries, though, the volcanic gases would probably knock you unconscious.) But unlike one of the characters in the 1997 film Volcano or Gollum in The Lord of the Rings, you wouldn’t sink into the lava and liquefy like the Wicked Witch of the West, says Klemetti, who wrote about those scenes in a 2011 Wired article. Lava may look like a liquid, but it’s not like water: it’s too sticky and viscous. “So you’d be sitting on top of the lava flow,” says Janine Krippner, a volcanologist at Concord University.

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4 comments on “Falling into lava would be a pretty hot mess

  • @OP – Now, falling into lava is another story. The extreme heat would probably burn your lungs and cause your organs to fail. “The water in the body would probably boil to steam, all while the lava is melting the body from the outside in,” Damby says.

    While this is so, pyroclastic flows are much more deadly!

    https://edition.cnn.com/2018/06/04/world/guatemala-volcano-vs-hawaii-volcano-wxc/index.html

    there are huge differences between Guatemala’s Fuego volcano eruption, which has killed 62 people since Sunday, and Hawaii’s recent Kilauea eruption, which hasn’t killed anyone but keeps slowly wreaking havoc one month later.

    Lava vs. pyroclastic flow
    Kilauea’s primary mode of destruction is lava, but Fuego has unleashed pyroclastic flow — a nasty mix of ash, rock and volcanic gases that can be much more dangerous than lava.

    In Guatemala, pyroclastic flow from Sunday’s eruption topped 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit (about 1,000 degrees Celsius), CNN meteorologist Ivan Cabrera said.
    “This eruption at Fuego was explosive, sending hot debris down the steep sides of the volcano to make the pyroclastic flows,” said Erik W. Klemetti, associate professor of geosciences at Denison University.
    He said pyroclastic flows can tumble down a volcano at hundreds of kilometers per hour — way faster than what people and even cars could outrun.

    By contrast, Kilauea produces lava (or sticky, molten rock) that typically creeps along at maybe hundreds of meters per hour — not nearly as fast as devastating pyroclastic flow.

    Unfortunately for the nearby inhabitants, we can currently compare the two forms of eruption!



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  • Arkrid Sandwich #2
    Jun 6, 2018 at 4:31 pm

    Wow, so dipping my hand into molten rock will give me severe painful burns.

    Watching out for collapsing roofs on hidden larva tubes, is also a good idea!

    Moving on active volcanoes needs caution.

    I recall, that when on the active summit cone of Mt Teide, as I took a plastic bag of food and drinks from my pack, and put it on the ground near a rock where I planned to sit for a rest, sulphurous steam from a fumarole melted the plastic.
    I decided to remain standing!

    It’s the one you are not watching out for, which will get you! 🙂



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