Collaborative (and sticky) Inquiry in the Geology of Natural Hazards

Wooster, OH – Today’s hazards class was devoted to lava viscosity. Viscosity plays an important role in controlling how volcanoes behave, from determining how quickly magma ascends to whether the eruption will be explosive or effusive. In Hazards, we’ve been discussing the factors that control lava viscosity, like silica content, volatiles, and temperature. Although we’d love to experiment on real lava, like the folks up at Syracuse University, we just don’t have the right set up. Instead, I borrowed Ben Edwards’ (Dickinson College) idea of using corn syrup. (I’m not the only one).

We simulated lavas of different viscosities by varying the temperature of the corn syrup and adding rice and sand. Then, we poured our “lava” down ramps and timed how fast they moved. We used their velocities to calculate viscosity and compared our results to real lava.


We also blew bubbles into our “lavas” to simulate volatiles.

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