Wednesday Whatzits: Yellowstone plume, man-made lava and monitoring Hawai`i

Some news for today:

Yellowstone National Park, USA.

  • Another fine example of media headline versus actual research, an article in the Jackson Hole Daily about a new study by Dr. Robert Smith and others on the Yellowstone plume was titled "Park's giant magma plume eating up mountains". Yikes! Well, the actual study published recently in the Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research is more about the geophysical parameters of the Yellowstone plume - a plume that might reach as far as 500 km below the caldera itself. As for the mountain eating part, I think they were trying to get at the idea that as the North American plate move over the plume, the topography over the plume will change (thanks to the bulging of the plate), thus "erasing" mountains - however, this is a minor part of the study. The most interesting thing (at least to me) is speculation of what might happen when the plume hits the colder, thicker crust of the North American Craton.
  • In what can only be described as the closest thing to a man-made lava flow, a glass factory in Ireland had one of its furnaces crack, producing a giant molten glass flow. The glass (at ~1600C) flowed out of the furnace and filled an area 2-3 feet deep in glass. Luckily, no one was killed, but I'm sure there are folks who study glass rheology dying to get a look at the results of this spill. Might be the only time firefighters in Ireland will have to deal with lava flow-like events!
  • Volcano monitoring in Hawai`i looks to get a big upgrade with an announcement of ~$420,000 for updating the system and research. Sounds like a lot of the money will go to study the vog problem on the Big Island of Hawai`i. Overall, the USGS received $7 million from the Department of the Interior as part of the ARRA.

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Another example of man-made lava sadly is Chernobylite, the extremely radioactive glass that flowed out of Reactor #4 into the basement of the containment building.

Its said to be very pretty, with light patterns rather like depression glass. But now they'r worried that it will degrade quickly, like normal lava, into a fine powder that will be more difficult to contain.

As part of my job I visited a glass factory in Hungary earlier this year and had a chance to look into one of the furnaces during the tour (thru a welding shield of course). I felt like it was the closest experience I'd ever have to looking into a volcano. The intense heat and light were amazing and I can well imagine a cracked furnace being a most frightening experience. Good to hear all the jobs are safe tho and the factory will be back on stream in a couple of weeks.

Factory glass isn't usually a precise match to natural volcanic glass; it has a very high level of sodium silicate not found naturally, which reduces the viscosity. And the temperature quoted (1600 decrees C) is about 400 degrees higher than the hottest lavas at surface conditions. I keep thinking of komaiites (sp?) though, which ARE supposed to have been erupted at that sort of temperature

early in my working life I worked in a glass factory in Seattle. We had a tank split open, spilling colored glass onto the cement floor where it then flowed out into the rainy parking lot. It was exciting but not at all frightening (except maybe to those not to familiar with factory language). It cools and hardens pretty quickly (more so than basalt lava I believe) so you don't have to worry about it going very far. There isn't much you can do except watch it and move flammable materials (boxes, pallets, garbage cans, etc) away from its path. Standard glass factory design anticipates a failure, so all critical systems run overhead where they are safe and you make sure there's a run-out area near the tank. The most exciting part is when the surface of the concrete pops from the heat, sending small glass fragments and fibers in all directions. Spraying water on it is not advised, since it just create a lot of steam and puddles.The most difficult part is getting rid of the hardened flow, since it has cooled without going through the annealing step, it has lots of internal stresses that make the bits and pieces very fragile with a tendency to fly apart at a touch. Since the glass is now contaminated with concrete and other debris picked up on its path along the floor, we couldn't recycle it back once the tank was repaired, which was a shame.

I used to work at a mountaineering equipment factory next to a glass factory [owned by the same man] and for giggles 'n' grins we'd go over and look at the glass ovens. They were raised off the floor and periodically, due to the extremely high temperatures they employ, one would burn out and dump its molten contents on the floor. Once they cooled, the glass would be chipped up and reused, or we'd keep the pretty chunks.


I worked at L.P's place too for a while, in the glass furnace area, not in the Mountaineering shop, in 1977 while I was still in ceramic engineering at the UW. When were you there? The glass spill I described was at a different place though.


Anne - that's some mighty obscure knowledge you're displaying there. You should get a prize.

Keep monitoring yellowstone's magma plume. Hopefully, you will have nothing dire to report anytime soon...Excuse me for wandering off subject. But I suffer the funny feeling that Anak Kraktoa is concocting a monstrous surprise for volcanologists and humanity. In other words, I believe it shall erupt cataclysmically much sooner than later--and its temper tantrum will be of a magnitude more or less on par with Toba's last eruption.

Cool ... $420K won't go very far though unless they've already developed the instrumentation and just need to duplicate things.

By MadScientist (not verified) on 11 Dec 2009 #permalink

Rheological disasters? Don't forget the Great Beer Flood of 1814 (original London Times article here), in which several people drowned and one poor soul died of alcohol poisoning (guess his idea of cleaning up the mess was to drink as much of it as possible)....

By The Mad LOLSci… (not verified) on 12 Dec 2009 #permalink