Make Real Lava

There’s no better way to learn about volcanoes than by creating real lava. That’s exactly what scientists at the University of Buffalo did. By cooking up 10-gallon batches of molten rock and injecting them with water, they are shedding light on the basic physics of lava-water interactions, which are quite common in nature, but poorly understood. What did they discover? Lava-water encounters can sometimes generate spontaneous explosions when there is at least about a foot of molten rock above the mixing point. Read more for another video and additional information.

The research team ran a total of 12 experiments in which water-injection speeds ranged from about 6 to 30 feet per second, and where lava was held in insulated steel boxes that ranged in height from about 8 to 18 inches.

“If you think about a volcanic eruption, there are powerful forces at work, and it’s not a gentle thing. Our experiments are looking at the basic physics of what happens when water gets trapped inside molten rock,” said lead investigator Ingo Sonder, research scientist in the Center for Geohazards Studies at UB.