Q How much lava, exactly, erupts from an exploding volcano? Is there much variability?
A Yes, there is tons of variability in the amount of lava that shoots out of a volcano (or system of volcanoes) over its lifetime. For example, one eruption (or, more likely, a series of eruptions) that happened roughly 250 million years ago in present-day Siberia produced enough lava to cover a surface area equal to that of western Europe, or about 2-million square kilometers. As for thickness, one article states that the Siberian eruption produced enough lava to cover the entire U.K. in about 12 kilometers of basalt (a common volcanic rock) – holy hole in a donut, Batman! In contrast, the Hawaiian volcano of Mauna Loa (considered the largest active volcano on our planet) ‘only’ has a surface area of about 5-thousand square kilometers and a thickness of about 15-17 kilometers. While that may sound like roughly 80% of the mass of all the Hawaiian islands combined (because, in fact, it is), it’s potatoes compared to Siberia.
Photo: Eruption at Mauna Loa Volcano, Hawaii. Date unknown.
Finally, and for the insatiably curious, here’s an awesome animated guide to volcanoes, courtesy of the BBC.
Next up: Spotlight: plate tectonics and the recent Chilean and Haitian earthquakes.
Au revoir, my friends!