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Thread: A possible way to prevent a major supervolcano eruption?

  1. #1 A possible way to prevent a major supervolcano eruption? 
    Forum Bachelors Degree x(x-y)'s Avatar
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    Well, I was thinking of ways to prevent a major supervolcano eruption and I came up with an idea (I'm not sure if it would work, so any constructive critisicm is appreciated).

    So, basically, the idea is to set off a (or a series of) controlled explosion(s) in the ground above the supervolcano magma chamber. An analogy that is useful is this:

    Think of a shaken bottle of coca cola (i.e. the magma chamber ready to erupt at any minute), if a puncture is made in the side of the bottle then the coke will violently be released, most likely damaging the bottle and sending the substance large distances. Now think about a (relatively) settled bottle of coca cola (the magma chamber as it is now, most likely). If you puncture this bottle, then the coke will be released in a more controlled, slower and less violent way- sending the substance shorter distances.

    So, I thought about this and applied it to a supervolcano magma chamber- and realised that by setting off controlled explosions at the surface of the magma chamber, pressure could be eased off slowly and preventing a major eruption for a long period of time. Also, any magma or possible ash release could be controlled as it would be moving slower due to the controlled release of any matter- i.e. barriers and artificial levees could be constructed in order to prevent magma flow in certain directions.

    So, what do you think?

    There are a few risks that I can think of- for example: an unexpected full-scale eruption caused by the explosions!


    "Nature doesn't care what we call it, she just does it anyway" - R. Feynman
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    WYSIWYG Moderator marnixR's Avatar
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    my problem with "big solutions" in general is that if they go wrong they tend to go wrong in a big way


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    Quote Originally Posted by marnixR
    my problem with "big solutions" in general is that if they go wrong they tend to go wrong in a big way
    Hmmmm... Indeed, that is true. Obviously there would have to be a lot of theoretical and practical work done before it could be carried out- field tests using the same method could even be run on smaller scale volcanoes?
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    A quote from my childhood:

    "It's not nice to fool with Mother Nature"

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  6. #5  
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    Quote Originally Posted by MeteorWayne
    A quote from my childhood:

    "It's not nice to fool with Mother Nature"

    You could say that it's not nice to let "Mother Nature" fool with us, too!

    :P
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  7. #6  
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    Please explain the mechanism by which an explosion will create a conduit for the release of magma and pressure from the chamber.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ophiolite
    Please explain the mechanism by which an explosion will create a conduit for the release of magma and pressure from the chamber.
    Well, I just came up with the idea and I'm not really too sure exactly how it would be carried out.

    But, the best method I can think of is drilling down a few kilometres to the magma chamber- then observing where there is a site of active magma and placing explosives at the outer layers of the chamber at that point. This could allow a small, flowing, controlled release of magma from the chamber at that point. Obviously, the hole in the shell of the magma chamber would have to be big enough as to avoid huge pressures on a small surface area- which could lead to an uncontrolled, violent escape of magma and pressure.

    Now, I'm not too sure how one would go about releasing the magma to the surface in a controlled manner to be stored/redirected into several channels. Well, actually, another idea I've come up with is creating another magma chamber through a series of (large) explosions to allow the magma from the supervolcano chamber to be fed into it. Obviously, this secondary chamber would have to be away from the extent of the magma hotspot/plume.

    Anyway, that's a basic idea- but I'm no geophysicist or explosives expert and so my mechanism may not work in practice; as I say, the hypothesis would have to be tested extensively in theoretical terms and on smaller volcanoes magma chambers in order to get a good idea on how it would work, if at all.
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    We could BPs deep oil well technology for this.
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    It may be a good solution.
    But since we can not predict earthquakes and seismic activity (at the current time), I think we can not know what an underground human job may cause.
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  11. #10  
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    True, but that is why extensive testing upon other volcanoes would be carried out first using the same method.
    "Nature doesn't care what we call it, she just does it anyway" - R. Feynman
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  12. #11  
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    The real problem would be keeping the magma molten - as it nears the surface, it will quickly cool and become more viscous and eventually crystallise, blocking whatever holes you have drilled and solcing none of the original problems.

    In the natural order of things, we have an eruption when there is sufficient force due to the pressure the magma is under to allow it to be removed from the chamber quickly enough that it does not solidify and re-seal the chamber as soon as a fracture appears. Hence, a fast, violent eruption.

    Now, were you to have the technology to keep all the drilling equipment, pipeline etc. at >1200K, and you could be sure that drilling will not cause a large release of pressure inside the magma chamber (i.e. trigger an eruption), then this might be viable.
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    Since gas pressure from CO2 and sulfur dioxide causes volcanic eruptions, why don't we just drill thousands of gas wells into the magma chamber and release the gas that way? We could just siphon it off and store it somewhere else.
    Last edited by Tarjafan; August 6th, 2013 at 06:52 PM.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Tarjafan View Post
    Since gas pressure from CO2 and hydrogen sulfide causes volcanic eruptions, why don't we just drill thousands of gas wells into the magma chamber and release the gas that way? We could just siphon it off and store it somewhere else.
    Hmmm, most are not caused by CO2 or Hydrogen Sulfide pressure, but are caused by a combination of magma pressure and structural failure of the volcano.
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    If magma is thick and sticky, gases cannot escape easily. Pressure builds up until the gases escape violently and explode. In this type of eruption, the magma blasts into the air and breaks apart into pieces called tephra. Tephra can range in size from tiny particles of ash to house-size boulders.
    Source: U.S.G.S.

    Such enormous expansion of volcanic gases, primarily water, is the main driving force of explosive eruptions.
    Source: US.G.S.

    The most abundant gas typically released into the atmosphere from volcanic systems is water vapor (H2O), followed by carbon dioxide (CO2) and sulfur dioxide (SO2).]

    Source: U.S.G.S.
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    So we have water, then carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide. and tephora explosions (only if the magma is very viscous)
    Neither of us was fully correct
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  17. #16  
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    The USGS said that explosive eruptions are driven by gas. Last time I checked, a super eruption is pretty explosive.
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  18. #17  
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    And the predominant gas which causes them is Water vapor
    If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world. -Thorin Oakenshield

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  19. #18  
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    Quote Originally Posted by Paleoichneum View Post
    And the predominant gas which causes them is Water vapor
    Then release it. Prevent the pressure from building up. Dill gas wells into the magma chamber.
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  20. #19  
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    That would most likely just precipitate an eruption by providing the release of pressure needed for major gas expansion.
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    Releasing pressure slowly prevents an explosion. Releasing it all at once causes an explosion. Explosions are created by an increase not a decrease in pressure.
    Last edited by Tarjafan; August 6th, 2013 at 08:49 PM.
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  22. #21  
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    THe problem is, humans do not at this time, have a means of controlling a volcanic eruption of any size. As soon as a pressure release is provided for the gass expansion, a major large scale eruption would likely ensue.
    If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world. -Thorin Oakenshield

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  23. #22  
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    Like I said, a pressure increase causes an explosion. A pressure decrease prevents an explosion.
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  24. #23  
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    Pressure RElease results in the explosion though. Its the sudden ability for the gasses to expand somewhere that results in the major eruptive power. Providing a convenient hole for the gasses to start expanding into will trigger the explosion.
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    It's the inability to expand that causes the explosion. As gas pressure builds up in a given volume of space, it causes the overlying rock to break which causes an eruption.

    Why do steam locomotives and water heaters have pressure relief valves?
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  26. #25  
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    Have you any idea of the pressures or volumes of gases and material involved in even a moderate sized volcanic eruption?

    The Mt St. Helens eruption released 24 MEGATONS of thermal energy and 1.5 million tons of sulphur dioxide in one day. Do you really think that any conceivable man made drilling operation is going to be able to release that much energy and pressure in a controlled manner?
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  27. #26  
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    Quote Originally Posted by Tarjafan View Post
    It's the inability to expand that causes the explosion. As gas pressure builds up in a given volume of space, it causes the overlying rock to break which causes an eruption.

    Why do steam locomotives and water heaters have pressure relief valves?
    As soon as you provide an escape route the gasses that have been under pressure will explosively expand.
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  28. #27  
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    Quote Originally Posted by x(x-y) View Post
    Well, I was thinking of ways to prevent a major supervolcano eruption and I came up with an idea (I'm not sure if it would work, so any constructive critisicm is appreciated).

    So, basically, the idea is to set off a (or a series of) controlled explosion(s) in the ground above the supervolcano magma chamber. An analogy that is useful is this:

    Think of a shaken bottle of coca cola (i.e. the magma chamber ready to erupt at any minute), if a puncture is made in the side of the bottle then the coke will violently be released, most likely damaging the bottle and sending the substance large distances. Now think about a (relatively) settled bottle of coca cola (the magma chamber as it is now, most likely). If you puncture this bottle, then the coke will be released in a more controlled, slower and less violent way- sending the substance shorter distances.

    So, I thought about this and applied it to a supervolcano magma chamber- and realised that by setting off controlled explosions at the surface of the magma chamber, pressure could be eased off slowly and preventing a major eruption for a long period of time. Also, any magma or possible ash release could be controlled as it would be moving slower due to the controlled release of any matter- i.e. barriers and artificial levees could be constructed in order to prevent magma flow in certain directions.

    So, what do you think?

    There are a few risks that I can think of- for example: an unexpected full-scale eruption caused by the explosions!
    Isn't that why we have many many small earthquakes?
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  29. #28  
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    I feel, as a qualified Earth scientist, I should be saying something in this thread that conveys my views more clearly than my pointed question in post #6. Unfortunately I am bereft of any positive way of explaining why this is a really dumb idea on so many levels that I've had to lie down to recover.

    No offence intended x(x-y), but this is really akin to saying "I think I know how we can travel to the stars easily. All we need is a warp drive."
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  30. #29  
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    Yes, but he deserves credit for trying. Thinking about how to deal with an issue and suggesting solutions is always a good thing. I cannot count how many times in my life, myself and others sat in a group suggesting one loony idea after another to solve some particular problem...
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  31. #30  
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    I think there is credit to be given for recognising a problem and for suggesting a solution is needed. I question the value of proposing solutions in an arena in which one has virtually no base knowledge. It is true that lateral thinking benefits from new perspectives untainted by too deep a knowledge of the problem area, but speculation on unfirm ground is - in my view - a different matter.
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