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

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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 Huge 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 sort of lava referred to as basalt. Basalt is way hotter and extra liquid than lava that erupts 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).

Infographic on the number and location of US volcanoes
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.

Past temperature, there are different good causes to not burn our waste in volcanoes. First, though at 2,000 levels Fahrenheit lava can soften most 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 are usually not many volcanoes on Earth which have lava lakes, or lava-like craters stuffed with lava wherein we will throw rubbish. Of all of the hundreds of volcanoes on Earth, scientists know of solely eight lively lava lakes. These embody Kilauea, Mount Erebus in Antarctica and Nyaragongo within the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Most lively volcanoes have craters stuffed with 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 lively lava lakes could be a really harmful process. Lava lakes are lined by a layer of chilly lava, however just under that crust they’re molten and intensely sizzling. If rocks or different supplies fall on the floor of a lava lake, they may 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 brought on a serious 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 doable to soundly dump rubbish in a lava lake: what would occur to the rubbish? When plastic, rubbish and metals burn, they launch lots 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 might kill crops and trigger respiration 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 crops 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 excellent shame to these cultures.

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