Volcano taming

Jun 05, 2008

Could macro-scale chemical engineering be used to stop a volcanic lava flow in its tracks and save potentially thousands of lives and homes when the next eruption occurs? That's the question R.D. Schuiling of Geochem Research BV, based in The Netherlands, asks in the current issue of the Inderscience Publication, International Journal of Global Environmental Issues.

During the 1960s, Schuiling pioneered the discipline of geochemical engineering, which involves the use of natural processes to solve environmental and civil engineering problems. He recently turned his attention to the ongoing problem of how to tame volcanic lava flows. Lava flows regularly threaten and sometimes destroy human settlements.

In 1973, the Icelanders had some success slowing the advance of lava from Heimaey by dousing the flow with huge volumes of seawater. Meanwhile in Sicily, the town of Zafferana was saved from being ravaged by the 1991-1993 eruption cycle of Etna by huge earth walls built to divert the lava flow.

Schuiling believes a geochemical approach might be effective in controlling lava flows across the globe. He explains that certain common rocks, namely dolomite, or limestone, will react strongly with hot lava at 1100-1200 Celsius. The chemical reaction that ensues is highly endothermic, which means it requires heat, and this would be supplied by the hot lava.

The decarbonation of limestone by the hot lava will therefore rapidly cool the volcanic outpourings, making it far more viscous and quicker to solidify. The reaction will leave behind solid calcium and magnesium oxide mixtures - pyroxenes or melilites depending on the specific type of lava. The process would also release some carbon dioxide.

He suggests that large chunks of dolomite or limestone blocks could be thrown on to lava from the sides, or from above by helicopters or airplanes, or even by an aerial cable system passing over the flow. An alternative approach might be to quickly build a wall of limestone blocks in the path of the advancing lava flow. In places where a future lava flow would cause great material damage, such walls could even be constructed as a forward defense before a new eruption.

Source: Inderscience Publishers

Explore further: Spain defends Canaries oil drilling plan

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Field test could lead to reducing CO2 emissions worldwide

Jul 29, 2013

An injection of carbon dioxide, or CO2, has begun at a site in southeastern Washington to test deep geologic storage. Battelle researchers based at Pacific Northwest National Laboratoryare injecting 1,000 tons of CO2 one ...

Seeking a pot of geological gold

Dec 16, 2011

Researchers are moving a step closer to solving one of the greatest murder mysteries of all time. It happened roughly 200 million years ago, marking the boundary between the Triassic and Jurassic periods, ...

Carbonates make diamonds grow in the Earth's mantle

Apr 08, 2011

Diamonds that no-one ever sees can form deep in the Earth’s interior. This is due to the chemical conditions controlling the associated carbon cycle. Swiss researchers used laboratory experiments to show ...

Recommended for you

Study shows no lead pollution in oilsands region

Oct 24, 2014

New research from a world-renowned soil and water expert at the University of Alberta reveals that there's no atmospheric lead pollution in Alberta's oilsands region—a finding that contradicts current scientific ...

User comments : 0