This story was produced in collaboration with Atlas Obscura .
Despite the millions of years spent on this planet, volcanoes and their workings are largely a mystery to science. Since it is virtually impossible to get into a volcano to study it, researchers at the University of Buffalo are investigating the mechanisms behind volcanic explosions by causing outbreaks of their own.
The Laboratory Environment for Chief Investigator Ingo Sonder, a scientist at the University's Center for Geohazards Studies, is not a bright white room full of glass tubes and bottles. In fact, it is not even inside. He and his team drive to a remote area, almost 60 kilometers south of the campus, where they produce lava in a remote former ballistics test facility. Making lava is a serious business, so there can not be unsuspecting viewers.
The experiment takes about 13 hours in this outdoor laboratory. This includes the time it takes to heat the stones to melt, and then the action-packed part of the experiment takes only a few seconds, as the researchers inject water into the molten rock to create a lava explosion. The temperatures in the oven used for the process can be up to 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit, so researchers must wear special heat-resistant suits. Nevertheless, it feels the other side to come so close to the bright orange lava.
This research is essential. Sonder and his team believe that by studying the movement of their artificial lava, they can better understand what is going on in actual volcanoes. With millions of people living near active volcanoes, it is hoped that this research can help create a kind of warning system so that scientists know when an outbreak is about to happen – and what to expect when it does , Just last year, the Fuego volcano erupted in Guatemala and hit nearby with rocks, lava and ash. More than 60 people were killed .
So this science is not only impressive. It may be life-saving.