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April 17th, 2010
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Is managing volcanoes even theoretically possible?

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From:madfilkentist
Date:April 17th, 2010 02:34 pm (UTC)
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It would be a very large-scale project, but I don't see why not. It's already possible to predict eruptions to some extent; with suitable engineering, build-ups of magma pressure could be vented off before an eruption happened.
From:bruce9999999
Date:April 17th, 2010 03:01 pm (UTC)

Any self-respecting comic book villain uses volcanoes-

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-for geothermal power. Or should. Why don't we? Good job for disposable robots.
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From:redbird
Date:April 17th, 2010 03:05 pm (UTC)
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I think it might depend on what you mean by managing.

In theory (though not, I think, with current engineering) it might be possible to build some kind of huge structure to catch and direct the ash and gases put out by an eruption. (Apparently one of the reasons previous Icelandic eruptions have been so destructive was hydrogen fluoride emissions poisoning the land, and thus the livestock forage.)

Again, in theory, it might be possible to build some kind of structures that would channel some of the lava flow. But you'd have to keep rebuilding, because if it worked, the first thing that would happen would be that your carefully built channel would be full of basalt. Again, I suspect it might be possible to vent some gases rather than have them all come out at once, if that proved desirable. (N.B. I am not a geologist, much less a vulcanologist.)

I doubt it's even theoretically possible to prevent an eruption; I suspect that to do so, you'd have to stop plate tectonics.
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From:whswhs
Date:April 17th, 2010 03:35 pm (UTC)
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Doesn't Iceland have eruptions precisely because it's not at a plate boundary, but in the middle of a plate, where volcanic venting provides an outlet for thermal energy? If you stopped plate tectonics, those eruptions would continue forever in the same place, the way they did on Mars at Olympus Mons. To stop eruptions, you'd need to stop not plate tectonics, but thermal convection in Earth's mantle, which is apparently the process that causes plate tectonics. If there were a way to vent all the thermal energy of the core to space, freezing the entire core solid, you could slow down thermal convection, but not stop it, because radioactive decay in the mantle is also an energy source . . . and there might be side effects. (Besides, our descendants might not thank us for throwing away that huge store of thermal energy!)

On the other hand, if you could provide a more efficient conductive or convective channel for the heat of that magna, you could lower the temperature differential locally. Maybe you could even get large-scale geothermal power out of the deal.
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From:richardthinks
Date:April 17th, 2010 03:52 pm (UTC)
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vent all the thermal energy of the core to space
...but where would it go? Sorry, I know you're talking hypothetically, but this is one of the things that totally messes with my faulty common sense expectations. Ever since I heard about Widmanstätten patterns, which only happen through extremely slow cooling, I don't know what to do with my ideas about the coldness of space. Apparently iron asteroids, at least, don't radiate heat very quickly.
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From:whswhs
Date:April 19th, 2010 01:53 am (UTC)
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I'm offering venting all the energy to space as a false to fact hypothetical, in order to argue that even if it were achievable, there would still be internal heat sources and convection, and therefore eruptions, and thus that plate tectonics is a side issue: if you don't have plate tectonics you have goddamned huge volcanoes that continue to erupt in the same place for eons. Presumably anything we could really do would be even less effective.

What can I say? I was a math student; I learned to like proofs by contradiction.
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From:nancylebov
Date:April 19th, 2010 02:53 am (UTC)
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Managing volcanoes isn't the same thing as having no volcanoes. It might mean delaying eruptions or displacing them to more convenient locations.
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From:whswhs
Date:April 19th, 2010 05:58 am (UTC)
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Sure, and I discussed working on that scale when I said On the other hand, if you could provide a more efficient conductive or convective channel for the heat of that magna, you could lower the temperature differential locally. Maybe you could even get large-scale geothermal power out of the deal. But redbird said you'd have to stop plate tectonics, and I wanted to discuss why that not only would be impractical but would be counterproductive if you could do it. It wasn't my premise I was trying to explore.
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From:nancylebov
Date:April 19th, 2010 11:34 am (UTC)
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Sorry, I was using recent comments instead of checking for context at the entry link.
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From:redbird
Date:April 17th, 2010 04:31 pm (UTC)
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Iceland has eruptions because it is on a hot spot at a plate boundary. The mid-Atlantic ridge, the spreading center where the North American and Eurasian plates are moving apart, runs through Iceland.

Broadly speaking, you get eruptions at divergent boundaries (though most of the ocean spreading center lava doesn't reach the surface, it makes very long mountain chains under water); convergent boundaries (e.g. the Andes, Fuji, the Cascades); and hot spots.

The quick explanation of hot spots tends to be "volcano not at a plate boundary" (like Hawaii), but hot spots actually occur apparently randomly* all over Earth. The plates drift slowly over them. At any given time, it's likely that one or more plate boundaries will be at a hot spot.

*There may be non-random things going on down there in the mantle that affect hot spot locations, which we haven't figured out yet.
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From:janni
Date:April 18th, 2010 05:39 pm (UTC)
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One can actually even sort of see the plate boundary in parts of Iceland, such as the rift valley of Þingvellir, where the ground pulls apart a couple centimeters a year and the rifting is pretty visible.

But yeah, as redbird says, it's a hotspot too. Really, it's kind of amazing that island holds together at all, in some ways.
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From:nancylebov
Date:April 17th, 2010 04:03 pm (UTC)
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I'm pretty sure there have been successful efforts to control the path lava takes. Unfortunately, I can't remember where.

The most practical sort of managing would be venting the energy in some safer way, though volcanoes as weapons are a satisfactory addition to fiction. For that matter, I wouldn't mind a vaster than empires and more slow story where the competing sides have such a long view that they influence continental drift to get what they want.
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From:siderea
Date:April 17th, 2010 05:56 pm (UTC)
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I'm pretty sure there have been successful efforts to control the path lava takes.

Iceland. If there's anybody on earth who can figure out managing a volcano, it will be these maniacs:
The ensuing lava-cooling operations were the most ambitious that had ever been undertaken. The Sandey was able to spray up to 400 litres per second (105 US gallons per second) onto the advancing flow, and a network of pipes was laid on top of the lava to distribute the seawater over as wide an area as possible. Wooden supports for the pipes caught fire where the lava was hottest, and even aluminium supports melted, but the pipes themselves were prevented from melting by the cold seawater flowing through them. Up to 12,000 square metres (3 acres) of lava flow could be cooled at one time, with internal barriers then being created within the flow, which thickened and piled up upon itself.
Read the Wikipedia article, it's absolutely mindblowing, and some deeply fabulous reporting.

Edited at 2010-04-17 05:57 pm (UTC)
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From:madfilkentist
Date:April 17th, 2010 08:37 pm (UTC)
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One of Jules Verne's more obscure novels, Le Volcan d'Or, deals with an attempt to control a volcano. I don't think it's available in a good English translation. My review is here.
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From:captain_button
Date:April 18th, 2010 05:52 pm (UTC)
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Roger Zelazny wrote "The Eve of RUMOKO" (later included in "My Name Is Legion". As I recall it involved skulduggery in a project which was going to use nukes to create volcanic islands.
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From:beamjockey
Date:April 18th, 2010 06:00 am (UTC)
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The U.S. Army bombed some Hawaiian island in the 1930s in an effort to direct lava flow. I have neurons that tell me Martin B-10s were involved.

Fortunately, Google does not depend upon neurons...

On 27 December 1935, 28 bombs were dropped on a flow from Mauna Loa in an attempt to protect the city of Hilo.
From:llennhoff
Date:April 18th, 2010 03:08 pm (UTC)
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Control of Nature describes the 1973 effort to save an Icelandic port from a lava flow.
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From:richardthinks
Date:April 17th, 2010 03:42 pm (UTC)
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I wish it were. They're really the ultimate reminder for me that we are still so tiny and vulnerable, even on this world. The yellowstone bulge in particular is something I try not to think too hard about.

Well, that and the asteroids.
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From:nancylebov
Date:April 17th, 2010 04:05 pm (UTC)
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I think it's easier to divert asteroids than to do anything about Yellowstone.

Of course, the volcano in Iceland wouldn't be a great big deal if we could control the wind. :)
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From:janni
Date:April 18th, 2010 05:41 pm (UTC)
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Only even if we could control the wind, where would we send the ash? It has to go somewhere ...
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From:nancylebov
Date:April 18th, 2010 06:50 pm (UTC)
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How about north?

I don't know if there could be wind patterns which would disperse the cloud more quickly.
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From:carbonel
Date:April 17th, 2010 04:45 pm (UTC)
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John McPhee (IIRC) had an essay about attempts to divert lava flow in Iceland (mostly unsuccessful), but I think managing the volcanoes itself is only even theoretically possible for theories that far outstrip current capability.
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From:nancylebov
Date:April 17th, 2010 05:53 pm (UTC)
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I'm curious about the theoretical possibilities. I'm aware that we're nowhere near the tech level required.
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From:demonspawnmom
Date:April 17th, 2010 05:38 pm (UTC)
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Managing a volcano itself, no. Managing our reaction to them, yes.
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From:thnidu
Date:April 17th, 2010 07:29 pm (UTC)
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Theoretically, at some future time, maybe. But given the way our species has been "managing" our effects on climate, I hope we never try it with volcanoes!
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