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ETpro's avatar

Will we ever have a Red Adair style Volcano Firefighter?

Asked by ETpro (34503points) April 17th, 2010

Red Adair was the famous firefighter who took on the worst of the oil-well fires and put them out. He was legendary for his bravery, snuffing out the fire then moving in and capping the well to stop it from spewing oil spray and gas.

The ash cloud from the eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland has now tied up air traffic worse than any previous event in history. Sure it’s a very big dream, but isn’t it time we start thinking about how to cap an erupting volcano? How might it be done?

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18 Answers

Tobotron's avatar

physically impossible the forces involved are HUGE! and even if you could it would just pop up somewhere else, its kind of an earthly requirement that we have volcanoes its part of what created our atmosphere in the first place.

nature knows best, why wouldn’t it? it’s been doing a top job of it until we started meddling with it over the last 100yrs or so.

alternatively go live on the moon…no volcanoes there!

CyanoticWasp's avatar

He’d never be able to get a permit.

Pretty_Lilly's avatar

They could recruit a sex toy company to manufacture a humongous “Butt Plug”

ucme's avatar

Ahh dear old Fred Astaire oops freudian slip.They could get helicopters to air lift a giant wok surely that would do the trick.John Wayne had an enormous hose I hear tell, just sayin.

Jewel's avatar

The volcano is erupting BECAUSE it has been capped off! It has been pressurized, and has just become strong enough to blow off the cap. Cap it again, and the next eruption will be worse!
We have no way of containing the tremendous pressures inside the earth. We might be able to channel it occaasionally, and we may be able to filter out some of it, but all we can really hope to do is react to whatever it wants to throw at us. And build our communities away from danger zones.

Tobotron's avatar

National Volcano’ology place centre thing with Chuck Norris on speed dial…problem solved! And an army of mums with their asbestos hands as a surefire backup!

stranger_in_a_strange_land's avatar

Such an effort would be similar to trying to “block” a hurricane. Not within the scope of human abilities. The oil-well firefighters are cutting off the fires oxygen supply and preventing reignition until a new well cap can be installed.

lilikoi's avatar

Lol, even if you could cork a volcano, the pressure would probably build up and just cause a new escape route to form.

Trillian's avatar

Bjork. That girl has just the right attitude.

Jeruba's avatar

I can’t imagine our being foolish enough to try to mess with a natural force like a volcanic eruption. If we did, we’d deserve what we got. I’d expect to see a tornado snuffer or a tsunami bat invented before anyone tackled the earth’s molten core.

Anyway, isn’t it vastly preferable to have an eruption occur where it’s expected rather than to surprise us in, say, Los Angeles or Mumbai?

ETpro's avatar

@CyanoticWasp Imagine filing the environmental impact report. :-)

@Jewel Point taken. Great answer.

@Jeruba Sign me up for tsunami swatting.

matty82's avatar

These kinds of geo-engineering problems deserve study. Red Adair and others of his generation solved engineering problems that earlier seemed impossible.

It should to be clear that molten lava must obey the rule of gravity. The earth is not like a spoiled fruit waiting to burst. Without interaction with water or other chemicals in the crust, lava that reaches the surface simply flows downhill, like in Hawaii.

Undersea eruptions are tamed by water above them. It therefore stands to reason that it might be possible to reduce the intensity of a volcano if a very large volume of water could be sprayed into it. A nearby sea or lake would be required.

Humans have reclaimed millions of acres of land from the North Sea and the Gulf of Mexico. It is time to leave behind the pettiness of office politics (which has dominated human consciousness for 40 years) and embrace a new great age of engineering.

The America of Art Deco, Jazz, the Chrysler Building, the Chicago World’s Fair, and Boulder Dam: that was a can-do America. That America, given modern tools, could put out a volcano. It is time to again embrace engineering, the root of all human enterprise.

Jewel's avatar

@matty82, To find out more about cooling lava with water see link:
However, undersea volcanos are not “tamed by water above them.” The water cools the surface quickly, but the eruption continues until the internal pressure is relieved. And eventually some of these undersea volcanos turn into islands which have volcanos.
We have no technology capable of stopping a volcanic eruption, and I think it would be foolish to try. If we suceeded, we would be messing with the earth’s internal temperature, which controls the magnetic field, which protects our atmosphere from being blown away by solar winds. Engineering should only address the effects of an eruption. Not the eruption itself. Our planet is self-regulating if left alone. It is a more complex system than you seem to realize.

CyanoticWasp's avatar

@Jewel say what?

What is the evidence that the Earth’s core temperature has any effect on its magnetic field… or that the magnetic field protects the atmosphere from solar winds? (You do realize that the ‘solar winds’ aren’t really ‘winds’ as we know them, right?)

As for the part about being ‘self-regulating’, that’s just more evidence of your “faith-based science”, isn’t it?

Jewel's avatar

So, my “faith-based science” is inferior to your belief in whatever it might be?
Yes, I do believe that the theories proposed by science, and proven by science, are valid. You can scoff and demean all you want, but doing some open-minded studying would benefit you more and lead us to discussion instead of your disrespectful response and my edgy reply.

You might begin your study with these subjects:
1. Geomagnetic Shield
2. Earth’s Magnetosphere and the Solar Wind
3. Geodynamo action and generation of the magnetic field

Because the earth rotates, the outer core spins around the inner core and that causes the earth’s magnetism.

Planets with a weak or non-existent magnetosphere are subject to atmospheric stripping by the solar wind.

Earth’s magnetosphere provides protection, without which life as we know it could not survive. Mars, with little or no magnetic field is thought to have lost much of its former oceans and atmosphere to space in part due to the direct impact of the solar wind. Venus with its thick atmosphere is thought to have lost most of its water to space in large part owing to solar wind ablation.

Earth itself is largely protected from the solar wind, a stream of highly charged particles emanating from the Sun, by its magnetic field which deflects most of the charged particles.'s_magnetic_field

The dynamo theory proposes a mechanism by which a celestial body such as the Earth or a star generates a magnetic field. The theory describes the process through which a rotating, convecting, and electrically conducting fluid can maintain a magnetic field over astronomical time.

ETpro's avatar

Thanks, @matty82 and @Jewel for a fascinating debate. I do believe that the rotation of the earth’s crust relative to its iron/nickle core is the source of the magnetosphere. That’s not a faith-based assumption, but an educated scientific guess.

matty82's avatar

My earlier point was that humans have already changed the earth. A plan or an attempt to mitigate the forces of nature is not an all or nothing proposition. Certainly any large geoengineering project involves financial and moral considerations. First, however, some back-of-napkin math is required.

Managing volcanoes using firefighting techniques may seem far-fetched, but its has already been done: ”... in 1973, an eruption on the nearby island of Heimaey [Iceland] threatened to bury a town’s economically important harbor; residents sprayed the advancing lava with seawater to cool it off, and the harbor remained intact.” (From ScienceNews). Roughly, eruptions measuring millions of tons of hot ash or lava might benefit from intervention with water, although too little water could make things worse, like wetting sauna rocks. Supervolcanoes, like Pinatubo, eject multiple cubic kilometers of ash and lava, and could not be managed.

As far as trying to control volcanoes or tap geothermal energy having any effect on the molten interior of the earth, there is nothing to worry about. There is a trillion cubic kilometers of earth. Even a thousand-years-long concerted effort to cool the mantle down
could only result in a tiny fraction of one degree temperature change, within a standard deviation of the interim mean.

Geoengineering and “new energy” ideas should not be too quickly embraced or rejected. A plausible idea should be alternately challenged and modified until it is proved unworkable, set aside for later study, or implemented.

For example, using lye and lime to scrub significant amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere is economically impractical at this time, but the method is nonetheless quite feasible. There is a couple of trillion tonnes of CO2 in the atmosphere, a large but manageable amount.

Similarly, rising sea levels could be managed on a macro scale by pumping sea water (possibly desalted) onto the islands of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. Each 500 cubic kilometers put on land lowers the sea by a whole millimeter.

ETpro's avatar

@matty82 Excellent point. Old man that I am, I remember watching scenes of the fight to save Heimaey Harbor on the evening news. Of course, this is a far more violent erruption and it would take a truly gargantuan engineering project to suppress the ash cloud it is spewing.

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