Supervolcanic delivery: Geological evidence indicates that when “supervolcanoes” erupt, the results might best be described as apocalyptic. So powerful are these eruptions, and so devastating the searingly hot ash they blast into the atmosphere, that life on entire continents could be at risk. Now a new discovery is bringing into focus an intriguing aspect of such supervolcanic events, that of “lava-like flows.” This image, taken by volcanologist Graham Andrews, assistant professor at California State University, Bakersfield, depicts evidence of such a flow — actually compacted volcanic ash particles masquerading as lava — in Idaho, many miles from the 8-million-year-old eruption that likely produced it. A research team at MU, comprised of Alan Whittington, an MU geological sciences professor, and doctoral students Genevieve Robert and Jiyang Ye, recently determined how it was created. “During a supervolcano eruption, pyroclastic flows, which are giant clouds of very hot ash and rock, travel away from the volcano at typically a hundred miles an hour,” says Robert, the team’s leader. “We determined the ash must have been exceptionally hot so that it could actually turn back into lava and flow before it eventually cooled.” The process, the researchers say, is called “viscous heating.”
Slideshow: Hardened Lava Flow From Ancient Eruption
This slideshow features several photos showing evidence of flowing lava hardened into rock, found in Idaho.