Defuse a volcano? (27)

1 Name: Anonymous Scientist : 2011-10-27 19:42 ID:Yc4D7ZOM This thread was merged from the former /science/ board. You can view the archive here.

As this is the ever-highly speculative Science board, I put to you a highly speculative scenario: Are you a bad enough dude/construction company/government agency/super villain to stop a volcano? Can you think of a way to take enough energy out of the equation to make a volcano sputter rather than explode?

I say this with the threat of Uturuncu popping its top sometime soon and potentially messing with the weather even worse than Pinatubo did. Also, I'm all about job creation...

Don't hold back! I want to hear crazy ideas.

2 Name: Anonymous Scientist : 2011-10-28 08:36 ID:6gTp6ZU1

Well, stratovolcanoes like Uturuncu are generally caused by the presence of a subduction zone. The nastiest volcanoes are linked to plate tectonics. There's hot spots too, in which the mantle violently penetrates the crust, but after making its initial thrust the mantle doesn't have much stamina unless aroused by the proximity of a cleft. I imagine we can tolerate the continued activity of shield volcanoes.

So let's get rid of the plates. What good have they ever done for us? They're responsible for earthquakes, volcanoes, and Australian wildlife, the bastards. Anyway, it may be difficult to actually put the Earth's crust back in one piece now that it's all broken up, so why don't we time travel back to near the formation of the planet and put a stop to all this tectonic business before it started.

For plates to form, the crust of a planet requires areas of weakness. On Earth, it's believed that these areas of weakness were created by the interaction of silica and water. Water is probably the easier of the two to do away with, though how exactly how that would be done is hard to say, due to our limited understanding of the Earth's formative years.

If you subscribe to the giant impact hypothesis (that a collision with another protoplanet caused the formation of the Moon), averting that may achieve our goal, as it has been theorized that material vaporized by the impact generated a high-pressure CO2 atmosphere which prevented the Earth's water from evaporating away into space. It has also been theorized that much of Earth's water may be of extraterrestrial origin, so putting an impenetrable force field around the young Earth to shield it from any and all collisions is a good bet.

Should we succeed, Earth's oceans will have been severely diminished or perhaps not exist at all, significant tectonism will not occur, and as a side effect of the reduction of surface water it is likely life would have never originated on the planet. A small price to pay for avoiding the threat of a supervolcano, in my opinion.

3 Name: Anonymous Scientist : 2011-10-28 11:23 ID:BOrrV0yd

Not even thinking about boxes, he's so outside of them. I like it, but the time machine is in the shop.

Is there a way to either cool the system down? Can we just take energy out of it with some sort of enormous geothermal operation?

Can we set the whole thing off prematurely to ensure a slightly less violent eruption?

4 Name: Anonymous Scientist : 2011-10-28 23:10 ID:S+l6nf9a

How much urgent is this?
Volcanoes in the Uturuncu region are known to hoard magma for 300,000 years before they erupted.

5 Name: Anonymous Scientist : 2011-10-29 00:50 ID:Yc4D7ZOM

300,000 years will blow by in the blink of an eye. We need ideas, people. Coordinated nuclear blasts deep below the surface? Inject water deep below the earth? Anything? Anyone?

6 Name: Anonymous Scientist : 2011-10-29 06:48 ID:6gTp6ZU1

Well, my other brilliant plan to sabotage tectonism was by halting all radioactive decay and thus the Earth's main endothermic process, but I wasn't sure how to go about it. It appears futzing with quantum mechanics would be necessary and my understanding of that is not very solid.

Since you mention water, I'm reminded that its presence above an oceanic subduction zone actually promotes the melting of the mantle. One might decrease volcanic activity in the area by draining the adjacent ocean. (I don't have anything against oceans, seriously... they're just comparatively easier to dispose of than the other factors involved.)

7 Name: Anonymous Scientist : 2011-11-01 07:08 ID:BOrrV0yd

No one wants to play the game. That's fine. I am an expert at playing with myself.

From Wikipedia: "Magma chambers are hard to detect, and most of the known ones are therefore close to the surface of the Earth, commonly between 1 km and 10 km under the surface. In geological terms this is extremely close to the surface, although in human terms it is considerably deep underground."

To put that in some perspective: "The Kola Superdeep Borehole ... reached 12,262 metres (40,230 ft) in 1989, and is the deepest hole ever drilled..."

So there you go. It's possible to drill into a magma chamber. What can we do with this?

8 Name: Anonymous Scientist : 2011-11-19 22:26 ID:Heaven

I assume magma probably vaporizes more water than the water cools the magma. So pouring water into a volcano is probably not gonna stop it.

I'm kind of curious about what the radiation from nuclear blasts deep in the earth will do. I mean, maybe no animals live down there, but there's got to be bacteria or protists down there that never make it to the surface. We could get crazy mutated bacteria or something.

9 Name: Anonymous Scientist : 2011-11-20 06:55 ID:5R7WSsYE

Probably chuck a lot of flowing water over it.

10 Name: Anonymous Scientist : 2011-11-23 07:01 ID:emOcqeyk

What if you inject the volcano with liquid nitrogen?

11 Name: Anonymous Scientist : 2011-11-28 17:40 ID:Yc4D7ZOM

>Beowawe Geyser Field was located in central Nevada between Elko and Battle Mountain. The field and steam were visible from the Interstate. The geyser field itself was located on the side of a hill and immediately at the bottom of the slope. This small basin was considered for national monument status, but apparently a political rivalry caused its disapproval. In the 1950s, geothermal drilling began the downward spiral of geyser activity at Beowawe.

The same thing happened to Steamboat Springs in Nevada.

Basically, drilling deep into the ground and using the energy from the earth killed geysers. Granted a volcano (particularly a big nasty explody kind) is many orders of magnitude greater in power, there's still potentially something to be gained from sucking energy out of the equation.

12 Name: Anonymous Scientist : 2011-11-29 14:05 ID:NQQuy0da

One imagines it'd vaporize explosively. BOOM!

13 Name: Anonymous Scientist : 2011-11-29 14:41 ID:Ph3ouho+

If you flood a volcano, it might not defuse it, but you can harness the resulting steam and use it for energy.

14 Name: Spike : 2011-12-01 09:11 ID:hldAjPWa

Anybody remember that episode of the Transformers where the Decepticons were draining off the heat of the Earth to fill their energon cubes and it got so cold that you could have a snowball fight in the desert in the middle of July?

15 Name: Anonymous Scientist : 2011-12-31 14:50 ID:veQXhOEn

If you injected a powerful agent to lower the viscosity of the melt, it would decrease explosive potential. You could heat up the melt a lot while simultaneously introducing iron or other heavier elements to lower the silica content, which would also lower the viscosity and decrease likelihood of powerful eruption.

To complete stop a magma chamber, you would have to bore into the magma and insert miles-long rods of a material with a really high thermal conductivity constant. This could be supplemented with a dessication (de-watering) compound to lower the solidus of the melt and induce crystallization.

16 Post deleted.

17 Name: Hitler's Gas Bill : 2017-01-10 19:26 ID:3aP2bG+I

How about sand? Cheap, otherwise useless, and easy-to-access.
Plus, free glass, right?

18 Name: Anonymous Scientist : 2017-10-16 08:40 ID:XwUbjuU1

Yellowstone Super-Volcano eruption imminent!

19 Name: Anonymous Scientist : 2018-01-16 21:20 ID:jY5GkLEv

I have a special porn folder ready for that day.

20 Post deleted.

21 Name: Anonymous Scientist : 2018-04-26 01:37 ID:jdaHTFmh

You could probably earn more than a million bucks by defusing volcanoes.

22 Name: Anonymous Scientist : 2018-05-15 20:51 ID:lxGeI8ry

Someone needs to defuse the Kilauea volcano before it blows its top and kills us all!!

23 Name: Anonymous Scientist : 2018-08-20 19:05 ID:jdaHTFmh

Kilauea is a shield volcano which means it never does anything except gently burp lava. The only people it's going to kill are locals and dumb tourists, and even that's only likely if there's another pyroclastic flow like in 1790.

24 Name: Anonymous Scientist : 2021-01-15 20:12 ID:tMhU7Lg7

Ok, I'm thinking our best bet would be >>15-san's idea.

According to Wikipedia, the Altiplano-Puna Magma Body has a volume of 50,000 km^3. Our goal should to change the melt from felsic/intermediate to mafic. This requires increasing the temperature by ~300 C, and the iron composition by about 7%.

Using a density of 2.5 g/cm^3 for andesite, and a specific heat capacity of 591 J/kg*K, we get 1.25*10^17 kg of magma, containing about 9.5*10^22 J of heat energy. Increasing the temperature by 300 C would require an additional 4*10^22 J. For reference the largest nuke ever set of (Tsar Bomba), released 50,000 tons of TNT worth of energy, or about 2*10^14 J. We'll need about 200,000,000 Tsar Bombas to pull this off. I didn't look in to it too far, but there is probably enough uranium on the planet to make these bombs.

Next is the iron. Probably the easiest way to do this is to drill grid of boreholes (like >>7-san mentioned) across the Altiplano-Puna plateau, and just feed the drill steel straight into the magma. To increase the iron by 7%, we'll need 2,000 km^3 of iron, or 1.4*10^16 kg. World pig iron production was 1180 million metric tons in 2015, so we'll only need 12 years to produce that much.

In short, it is a lot more feasible than you might think. Obviously, I haven't considered the logistics of getting everything to the mountain. Also, I don't really know how we would get the nukes to the magma. More boreholes?

Finally, the price. As I write this the price of pig iron is $400 per metric ton, and uranium is $30 per lb. Ballpark, this gives me 5 quadrillion USD (5*10^15) for the raw materials. The job market looks good too. We'll be employing most of the planet's population for upward of a decade.

25 Name: Anonymous Scientist : 2021-01-15 23:16 ID:tMhU7Lg7

Some additional thoughts:

The nearest town is Antofagasta, which already has a big port due to the mining companies. Also, about half of the distance to the mountain is already covered by Ferrocarril de Antofagasta a Bolivia. We would likely have to lay ~200 km of new rail from Calama to the mountain.

Additionally, the current railway only handles about 2 million tons of freight per year, so it would need to be significantly expanded. The Daqin railway in China can transport 440 million metric tons per year, so three lines similar to that would be sufficient.

The port will need to be expanded, as well. Ningbo-Zhoushan port, also in China, supposedly the largest port in the world by tonnage, would almost be able to handle the load. I couldn't find how many berths are in Antofagasta, but we will likely need about 200.

Finally, I think that producing the uranium for the nukes will probably require the most effort. Refining an entire planet's worth of uranium is a non-trivial task. According to Wikipedia, it takes 62 SWU to produce 10 kg of low-enriched uranium. If current world enrichment capacity is 66700 SWU/yr, we will need at least 100,000 times more enrichment capacity to hit our 12 year schedule. (Someone should double check this calculation.)

Also, I just realized I screwed up my calculation for the Tsar Bomba. One detonation actually produces 2*10^17 J, so we would only need 200,000 bombs.

26 Name: Anonymous Scientist : 2021-01-24 01:42 ID:n/vpTRA4

Nice work. This seems like a worthwhile endeavor.

Do you think detonating 200,000 large-payload nuclear devices might have any side effects that would need to be managed?

I was thinking fallout, mainly, but I also wonder if there's a risk of the pressure waves triggering a secondary earthquake, since most volcanoes lie near fault lines.

Any ideas how to defuse an earthquake?

27 Name: Unverified Source : 2021-10-20 03:09 ID:FRywliM1

Ok, I lost track of this thread when /science/ got the ax, but take a look at this:
I'm no earthquake pro, but it seems like the energy release by the nukes actually helps to reduce the risk of a quake. Remember that earthquakes are caused when stress builds up because rocks at the fault can't move with the rest of the plate. So, if the blast can shake the fault loose a little, it actually serves to reduce the energy stored in the fault line.

You got me thinking about fallout, and I realized a problem with this plan.
Check out the abstract and intro of this paper:
It sounds like when a drill hits a magma body, the it flows up the borehole and then freezes, and then they drill through the new rock until they hit the magma again, and so on. This makes me think we are going to have a hard time actually getting in to the magma body itself. Originally, I had figured that if we can get the bombs sufficiently deep in to the magma body, the fallout will be contained due to the viscosity of the magma (this also gives us maximum heat transfer in to the magma). Now I am not too sure. Any thoughts? Perhaps there is a better way.

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