Lava is molten rock that comes out of a volcano during an eruption. The Earth’s mantle is solid but it’s so hot that puddles of molten rock form between the mantle and the Earth’s crust. This lava is less dense than the surrounding rocks, and so it makes its way to the surface through cracks and faults in the Earth’s crust. Eventually, it erupts to the surface.
Even though lava is much thicker than water, it can flow great distances across the surface of the Earth before it cools and hardens. Some lava is very thin, and can flow for miles; other lava is thick and doesn’t flow at all; it just piles up around the volcanic vent.
Here’s what we know about volcanos:
The Largest Volcanic Eruption of the 20th Century was in Alaska
The World’s largest eruption of the 20th century occurred in 1912 at Novarupta on the Alaska Peninsula. An estimated 15 cubic kilometers of magma erupted during 60 hours beginning on June 6th. This volume is equivalent to 230 years of eruption at Kilauea (Hawaii) or about 30 times the volume erupted by Mount St. Helens (Washington) in 1980.
Due to the remote location of the eruption, scientists did not visit the site until 1918, when they found the Ukak River valley filled with volcanic deposits and steaming fumaroles. They called it the “Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes.”
Magma is molten rock beneath the earth’s surface. Lava is magma that’s come above the surface, usually through volcanic eruption. If a person falls into a volcano, it’s magma that’s your problem. Most of us probably think of lava in the sense of lava flows, but you could also fall into a lava lake, which is lava that pools in a vent, crater or a depression on certain types of volcano.
Magma and lava are molten rock and very dense at two to three times more than water and the human body. Because of that density difference, a body falling into a volcano is going to float.
If you don’t sink burning to death isn’t the only option. You might burst into flames and burn when you hit the lava/magma’s surface (depending on the type, lava’s temperature ranges from approximately 1,200 to 2,200 degrees). You might also burn before you hit the lava/magma due to the radiant heat. A person could asphyxiate or char their lungs due to the hot air and gases above the surface of the lake. (Of course, you can get pretty close to lava on the surface without burning, but the inside of a volcano is an enclosed space, so the heat can’t dissipate as much. The radiant heat is potentially much higher here.) There’s also the possibility of hitting a super dense substance at a high speed and simply breaking your neck or cracking your skull open, explained Mental Floss.
Nik Wallenda Walks Across the Mayasa Volcano Nicknamed “The Mouth of Hell”
The seventh generation wire walker from The Flying Wallendas has walked over the Grand Canyon, Niagara Falls and 25 stories above Times Square. This is Wallenda’s longest and highest walk attempt to date on a one-inch-thick wire, reported Good Morning America.
Wallenda told Good Morning America, ”I have never until this morning walked on a cable of this diameter,” Wallenda said the day before his stunt.
The acrobat predicts the 1,800-foot walk over the volcano, dubbed “The mouth of Hell”,” could take him 30 to 35 minutes. The volcano contains a lava lake within its crater that boils at over 2,000 degrees F.
“For the last week I’ve been waking up in cold sweats because of this walk,” Wallenda told Good Morning America. “Every step is dangerous, but I will become more and more relaxed as I get through that gas for sure.”
The Masaya Volcano has one of just eight lava lakes on the planet.
READ NEXT: Read more about Nik Wallenda.