HERE’S WHAT WOULD HAPPEN IF YOU TOUCHED LAVA
Lava has a magnetic attraction, it captivates with its smooth, almost silky appearance. But here’s the honest talk: don’t touch it. Yes, it’s hot and yes, it can cause serious damage. The U.S. Department of the Interior notes that there are about 1,500 active volcanoes in the world, and while scientists want to study them, they prefer to keep a safe distance, relying on tools like satellites to track them.
Decoding Lava: Magma, Silica and Species
Understanding lava begins with distinguishing between magma and lava. National Geographic simplifies it — magma is molten rock underground, while lava is the same substance on the surface. The speed, shape and temperature of the lava vary depending on the silicon content. Mafic lava, with up to 63% silica, flows more like honey, while siliceous lavas, with over 63% silica, move in a more lumpy fashion, often leading to explosive volcanic events.
Fiery heat of lava
Hot lava goes without saying, but how hot can it get? National Geographic explains that mafic lava, a more liquid type, can reach temperatures of up to 2,200 degrees Fahrenheit, making it hotter than meteors passing through the atmosphere. The color of the lava gives an indication of temperature – red lava is cooler (between 1112 and 1472 Fahrenheit), followed by orange and yellow, as the temperature increases.
Approaching Pahoehoe: Almost certainly, but not quite
Among the various types of lava, Oregon State University volcanologists single out Pahoehoe lava as “the most accessible.” It flows slowly, developing a cool skin on the surface. While this may give a false sense of security, don’t be fooled. The skin can crack or the wind can shift, causing instant blistering and peeling skin for anyone nearby. Approach with caution, if at all.
Hazards beyond heat: the hazards of lava gases
Touching lava is not just heat; it’s about the gases it emits. Among the deadly emissions are sulfur dioxide, hydrogen sulfide and carbon dioxide. If these gases are trapped, or if the winds change, it can lead to fatal consequences. Even proximity to lava without direct contact poses a health risk. During the 2018 eruption in Hawaii, toxic fumes traveled up to 15 miles, underscoring the need for caution.
Water and lava: a risky mix
What happens when lava meets water? Contrary to expectations, the result is not safe to touch. When the lava hits the water, it boils, leaving superheated salt behind. The cooled lava turns into volcanic glass, shattering into tiny, dangerous pieces. This creates a plume of laziness—a lava mist containing tiny particles of glass and hydrochloric acid. Attempting to touch or interact with this phenomenon is dangerous.
Touching Cooled Lava: Unseen Dangers
Even after the lava cools, danger remains. USGS chemist David Damby warns that most lava-related injuries involve the cooled crust of the lava. Its sharpness can cause severe wounds. A study in Wilderness Environ Med found that 59% of injuries to hikers and tourists in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park were scratches and cuts from cooled lava. The salt water surrounding the volcanoes further increases the risk of infection.
When Lava Hits You: Real Life Events
Cases like Darryl Clinton’s experience during the 2018 volcanic activity in Hawaii highlight the unpredictability of lava. Struck by lava rock while volunteering, Clinton faced serious injuries, noting that even small pieces of lava can cause significant damage. It’s a reminder that lava, whether hot or cold, demands respect.
Goddess Worship: Cultural and Legal Consequences
In Hawaii, touching lava is not only a legal offense, it is rooted in cultural beliefs. The National Park Service states that the lion is considered the physical form of the goddess Pela, and disrespecting her is illegal. Traditional Hawaiian beliefs associate the lava with Pele’s divine essence, making it similar to poking the goddess with a stick. Ignoring these beliefs is said to incur the wrath of Pele, potentially leading to unpredictable consequences.
Scientists and the Lion: Learning from a Safe Distance
Scientists gain valuable insights into the inner workings of the Earth by studying lava samples. During volcanic eruptions, researchers can analyze different magma channels, offering clues about future eruptions. The USGS emphasizes that scientists use protective equipment and tools, such as rock hammers, to collect samples without getting close to the molten material.
Conclusion: admiration from afar
Basically, the allure of lava requires admiring from a safe distance. Whether hot or cooled, lava presents inherent dangers, and understanding its complexities can prevent life-changing consequences. Scientists show that studying lava does not require direct contact, emphasizing the importance of respecting natural phenomena. So the next time you feel drawn to a mesmerizing lava flow, remember: admiration is best served from afar.