Why cannot we throw all our rubbish into the volcano and burn it?


Causes embrace the sacred standing of many volcanoes, the poisonous nature of the waste, and the design of the volcanoes.

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Why cannot we throw all our rubbish into the volcano and burn it? —Georgine T.


It’s true that the lava is so sizzling that it burns a few of our waste. When Kilauea erupted on the Massive Island of Hawaii in 2018, lava flows had been hotter than 2,000 levels Fahrenheit (1,100 Celsius).

It’s hotter than the floor of Venus and sizzling sufficient to soften many rocks. It additionally heats up like waste incinerators, which usually burn rubbish at 1,800 to 2,200 F (1,000-1,200 C).

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However not all lava has the identical temperature. Eruptions in Hawaii launch a kind of lava known as basalt. Basalt is hotter and extra liquid than lava erupting at different volcanoes, such because the thick dacite lava emanating from Mount St. Helens in Washington state. For instance, the 2004–2008 eruption at Mount St. Helens produced a lava dome with a floor temperature of lower than about 1,300 F (704 C).

There are 161 volcanoes in 14 US states and territories. Scientists monitor them and warn surrounding communities in the event that they see indicators that the volcano could also be erupting. USGS

Past temperature, there are different good causes to not burn our waste in volcanoes. First, though at 2,000 levels Fahrenheit lava can soften lots of the supplies in our waste – together with meals scraps, paper, plastics, glass and a few metals – it’s sizzling sufficient to soften many different widespread supplies, together with metal, nickel and iron. Not there.

Second, there will not be many volcanoes on Earth which have lava lakes, or lava-like craters full of lava during which we will throw rubbish. Of all of the 1000’s of volcanoes on Earth, scientists know of solely eight energetic lava lakes.

These embrace Kilauea, Mount Erebus in Antarctica and Nyaragongo within the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Most energetic volcanoes have craters full of rocks and chilly lava, resembling Mount St. Helens, or with water, resembling Crater Lake in Oregon.

The third downside is that dumping rubbish in these eight energetic lava lakes could be a really harmful job. Lava lakes are coated by a layer of chilly lava, however slightly below that crust they’re molten and very sizzling. If rocks or different supplies fall on the floor of a lava lake, they’ll break the crust, disrupt the underlying lava and trigger an eruption.

This occurred in Kilauea in 2015: Blocks of rock from the crater rim fell right into a lava lake and induced a significant eruption that pushed rocks and lava up and out of the crater. Anybody who throws rubbish into the lava lake has to run and keep away from the burning rubbish and lava.

On September 30, 2021, an eruption from the Cumbre Vieja volcano on the Spanish island of La Palma produced clouds of poisonous gasoline.

Suppose it was potential to securely dump rubbish in a lava lake: what would occur to the rubbish? When plastic, rubbish and metals burn, they launch a whole lot of poisonous gases. Volcanoes already launch many poisonous gases together with sulfur, chlorine and carbon dioxide.

Sulfur gases can type acidic fog, which we name “vogue” for “volcanic fog.” It may possibly kill vegetation and trigger respiratory issues for folks close by. Combining these already harmful volcanic gases with different gases from burning our waste will make the ensuing fumes much more dangerous to the folks and vegetation close to the volcano.

Lastly, many indigenous communities view close by volcanoes as sacred locations. For instance, the Halema’uma’u Crater in Kilauea is believed to be the house of Pele, the native Hawaiian goddess of fireplace, and the realm across the crater is sacred to native Hawaiians. Throwing rubbish in volcanoes could be an important shame to these cultures.


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Emily Johnson, analysis geologist, US Geological Survey

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