You may have seen it, the video of a “lava art craft worker” running up a lava flow on Sicily’s Mount Etna. It’s a year old, but recently got attention on reddit. Anyway, it raised the question: how the heck can you walk on lava? You might (like me) have thought lava to be the one thing you expressly could not walk on.
Well, childhood be damned; it can be done. And this isn’t another case of that viral video of an eagle snatching up a kid (that turned out to be mostly CGI). Science supports this one, because Science likes ruining everything you thought you knew as a child.
Erik Klemetti, lava expert, wrote about this ‘trick’ for Wired:
I’ve tackled the issue of someone falling into a lava lake before — you wouldn’t sink like Gollum in Return of the King, but you probably wouldn’t like the experience much either as you explode from within when the water in your body turns to steam. I have even tackled how you might walk on lava (check it out — I have changed my tune somewhat). The biggest thing most people don’t realize is just how viscous lava is. It isn’t like water, where if you step into a pool, you sink to the bottom because the water lacks any strength to hold you up. Lava does have strength and speaking from experience, lava, even when red hot, does offer a lot of resistance when you try to pull some out as a sample.
You see, the cooler the lava gets, the quicker it bonds to form volcanic minerals (olivine, pyroxene, plagioclase feldspar). Whereas the air is roughly 25°C and the lava 1000°C (that’s right—that’s why you don’t usually want to step on lava), a crust quickly forms. In the video, the lava crust is fairly dark—meaning more solid—and fairly small—meaning a slower flow.
The key, it seems, to lava walking is to find the right lava and walk fast. You’d have to look for a flow that is dark and slow, and to take only a few steps. But be warned: you could hit an uneven patch and have your foot slip through. At 1000°C, that’s no picnic for your sneaker or your skin. So we at the Airspace are going to stick with just imaging the carpets/tiles/wood chips are hot lava and HIGHLY recommend you do the same.
Oh, and we might start seeing more self-proclaimed “lava artists” in Italy. We found out last week lava is the secret ingredient to making super-concrete.
“Why It Is Possible to Walk on a Lava Flow (But You Still Shouldn’t),” by Erik Klemetti, Wired
Lede image credit: reddit user barracuda415