Science: Terraforming
Volcano Helter Skelter   (+3, -3)  [vote for, against]
Round and round it goes, burning no one's toes

Credit to [oniony] whose "Volcano Bung" idea got me thinking, and to [zen_tom] who had the same basic idea around the same time.

Volcanic eruptions are caused when upward pressure from magma isn't matched by downwards pressure from the overlying rock. The type and severity of eruption that results depends on the magma viscosity and its gas content but in the worst case, we all know what can happen.

To prevent these messy ejaculations, I propose a secondary vent be drilled into the side of the volcano. On the outside of this vent is a huge chute which winds around the volcano, helter-skelter style.

When the magma swells upwards, instead of popping the top off and flinging bits of the caldera in all directions, it exits via the vent and coils around the volcano to the bottom, where it would enter a large pit.

Besides looking extremely cool (An enormous, fiery snake made of molten rock coiled around a mountain, anyone?) this arrangement will direct the magma safely around the volcano itself and avoid the catastrophic hurling of rocks and ash miles into the air.

The magma chute would have to be made of something very robust - I was thinking something akin to the ceramics that protect the Space Shuttle on re-entry, but don't know if that'd be enough - advice welcome.
-- DocBrown, Nov 09 2004

Helter Skelter http://library.chri...s/Disc4/IMG0036.asp
An innocent fairground ride, but term now forever linked to Charles Manson [ConsulFlaminicus, Nov 09 2004]

You’re confusing *robust* with *heat resistant*. Those shuttle tiles are very brittle. There are high temperature alloys that would work. But the trouble is, viscous lava like that in Mount St. Helens would plug the vent and overflow the chute.
-- ldischler, Nov 09 2004

Oooh, I like. But, the chute has to keep the lava hot enough so it wont clog up on the way down. Though, you could probably make some interesting rock formations if you started a spiral-formation off - it might super-strengthen the volvcano if started early enough. If the molten rock could be transported to the bottom of the mountain, and used as the raw material for building - it would be like piping icing onto a cake, only extremely hot, and building shaped.
-- zen_tom, Nov 09 2004

Hmmm...interesting points chaps. What about narrowing the vent [Idischler]? If you made the hole sufficiently small that the lava was exiting under considerable pressure (whilst not making it so small that the top would blow anyway) it would be prevented from clogging the vent and should flow (albeit messily) down the prescribed route.
-- DocBrown, Nov 09 2004

zen_tom - pipe it into brick moulds.
-- stupop, Nov 09 2004

ok, some info to chuck into the pot.

The nature of the eruption is dependent on many criteria such as [docbrown] has described. However, pretty key to it all is the water content and acidity, which also helps define the viscosity.

If a chamber has high gas content, esp. water, you a likely to get an explosive eruption. Whether you've vented the volcano or not, it's going to be messy.

The lava that is erupted will either be aa (pronounced ah-ha) or pahoehoe (pronounced pah- hoe -ee - hoe -ee). If its the runny pahoehoe form, your vents are going to get destroyed as it's slow moving, hot and rather powerful stuff (not much arrests it's flow). If it's aa, it'll be fast moving, fast cooling and will clog up your vents.

Finally, if it's an explosive eruption (and any drilling will not negate this possibility), it'll destroy any helter-skelters you've built and the surrounding 10miles of countryside. These things are rather powerful.
-- jonthegeologist, Nov 10 2004

What are you....some kind of geologist or something?
-- stupop, Nov 10 2004

If I recall correctly, aa is named because that's the sound a person walking over the cooled version makes. Random 3-2-1 Contact! fact for you.

Anyway, I'm not opposed to the general cool factor of the idea, but the problem is that generally, volcanic eruptions are good things, at least in the long run. While people are killed and property is damaged, the ash is high in nutrients and tends to encourage strong plant growth in the months and years following a kaboom.

-- shapu, Nov 10 2004

What are you....some kind of geologist or something? stupop, Nov 10 2004

What are you, some kind of stupop, or something! Gosh how nice to see you here. Group hug, maybe, or at the least a group handshake would be nice.
-- blissmiss, Nov 11 2004

Easy there, [blissmiss], it's flu season.
-- jurist, Nov 11 2004

I can understand your first two points [jon]. I'd hope that proper chute design could stand up to pahoehoe lava (love these names!)but only testing could give you the insight necessary to build something that could withstand it. Also clogging of the vents by aa lava is pretty much inevitable - redrilling would be necessary after each eruption.

What I don't follow is how drilling wouldn't help to negate the possibility of an explosive eruption. I know it could never be ruled out, but surely by preventing the massive build up of pressure that precedes a large explosive eruption, you could help to prevent, or at least mitigate the explosion?
-- DocBrown, Nov 11 2004

I guess that it's sensible to try and understand the pressures involved here. I feel sure that if drilling a vent could in any way prevent a more explosive major eruption, then it would have been attempted already.

However, I suspect that drilling a hole into the volcano and into the magma would, in effect, release the same pressures as would be released had the volcano erupted (if it did not, how would the venting disapate the pressures anyway)? That would be enormously dangerous and I suspect that's why it's not been done.

(Thinking further, I suspect that drilling would be even more dangerous. Same amount of materials, same pressures, smaller hole doesn't sound like a good combo)
-- jonthegeologist, Nov 11 2004

[bliss] Thought I'd better pop my head in to make sure everything is still.....I'm not sure what. I can assure you that it is though.
-- stupop, Nov 11 2004

I must disagree with you there [jon]. You assume that the upward pressure exerted by the magma is constant - I don't think it is, as I understand it, it varies with the amount of gas that shifts out of its dissolved state in the magma and contributes to vapor pressure.

Obviously, if you drilled into a volcano with a large pressure imbalance that was on the cusp of erupting, you'd have a bad day, but if it was possible to gauge pressure prior to drilling and get the vent in place at a time when magma pressure was low, I think this could work.
-- DocBrown, Nov 11 2004

[docbrown] why not give it a go and see who's right?

(semi-colon with closed parentheses, obviously)
-- jonthegeologist, Nov 11 2004

In that case controlled explosions might be the way to go rather than drilling.
-- stupop, Nov 11 2004

[jon] "Alright maybe I will smart guy - you don't have a monopoly on this fire hill science you kno-ARRRGH IT BURNS MEEEEEEEEEEEEE!"
[flies towards horizon on cloud of ash and fire]

I'll concede this is probably out of reach for now, but I don't think the concept is unworkable, given enough time and some (very cautious) research.
-- DocBrown, Nov 11 2004

random, halfbakery