Standing eye level with oncoming lava, in a snow pit he is digging at Tolbachik volcano in Russia, Ben Edwards is hoping his world doesn’t violently explode in the next few minutes. Several years of watching lava trundle over ice and snow has taught Edwards, a volcanologist at Dickinson College in Pennsylvania, that he’s probably safe — at this spot, the volcano’s incandescent rock rarely sparked the kind of blasts typically seen when lava meets water. Finished with the snow pit, Edwards clambers out and waits for water to start trickling out of the deep walls. “There was no obvious meltwater at Tolbachik , so we think the water drains immediately from the [lava-snow] interface, down under the snow,” Edwards said. Understanding how snow-capped volcanoes generate meltwater will help scientists better predict flooding from so-called glaciovolcanic eruptions, a significant hazard. Among the worst natural disasters are massive floods from icy urban volcanoes such as Washington’s Mount Rainer. In Iceland in 1996, a sudden flood called a jökulhlaup destroyed part of the national highway after Grímsvötn volcano melted its overlying glacier. But for Edwards, working at the extremes of fire and ice means more than predicting future hazards. He is also… Read full this story
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