PAHOA, Hawaii — Millions of people seeing images of lava destroying homes, cars and power poles have a simple question: Why can’t you stop it?
Try spraying lava with water, some suggest. Maybe dig a ditch to divert the flow or erect a barrier? How about explosives? Can’t they change its course?
No. No. And no.
“It’s a heartbreaking situation because these are people’s homes,” said Shannon Kobs Nawotniak, an associate professor of geosciences at Idaho State University and a NASA researcher. “Everyone in the volcanology community is just heartbroken. But from a scientific perspective, we know there’s just no way to divert this lava flow.”
Here’s the problem: Lava isn’t like water, snow or mud. It’s liquid rock, so it’s heavy, sticky and moving underground. And it’s nearly 2,000 degrees.
The highest-profile time authorities diverted a lava flow was for a slow-moving flow in Iceland that was threatening a harbor. For five months in 1973, workers doused the front of the flow with ice-cold seawater until it ground to a halt. That required 1.5 billion gallons of water.
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