How Hot is Volcanic Lava and What Can it Melt?

Written by Emmanuel Kingsley
Updated: July 2, 2022
Image Credit Wead/Shutterstock.com
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The earth’s crust holds many wonders, and one of them is brought to life by the activities of these pyramid-looking valves. These fiery vents from the earth’s crust, capable of causing devastating episodes, are even no news to a young child who has little interest in geography. In truth, mother earth holds a lot of wonders, but she sadly gives off hot lava capable of wreaking havoc during eruptions. 

In this article, we will discuss important facts concerning volcanic eruptions and what lava, in general, can melt.

How Hot is Volcanic Lava?

Volcanic lava is about 2200°F hot.

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Volcanic eruptions are closely associated with lava flows that naturally use openings in vents and fissures to escape. In most episodes, when lava is extruded, it comes out with an orange glow at temperatures ranging from 1470°F to 2190°F. However, even at this temperature, lava stands no match to the sun, which gives a whopping temperature of about 10,000° F. Sadly, with the high intensity of heat from lava after an eruption, almost all living creatures, including humans, animals, trees, crops, and even houses become affected.

What Natural Material Withstands Lava’s Temperature?

Regardless of the intimidating high temperature level of volcanic lava, many natural materials are capable of withstanding the temperature. An example of such material is tungsten which has a melting point of 6191.6°F. We conclude that the optimal heat generated by lava at 2,190°F cannot melt the tungsten because of its high melting point.

Other examples of metals and ceramics that can withstand lava’s temperature include; titanium, iridium, iron alloys, osmium, nickel alloys, aluminum oxide, mullite, and silicon nitride.

What Natural Materials Can Lava Melt?

Any material with melting points below 2190° F can be melted by lava.

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Lava can melt any material, including rubber, tanks, cars, trees, and grasses, with melting points below 2,190° F. However, if it cannot completely melt these materials, it can set them on fire and ultimately turn them to ashes. Nevertheless, we must be conscious that volcanic lava is undoubtedly dangerous and is relatively hotter than burning wood or coal, so one truly has to be careful when moving around its vicinity. Speaking about caution, a case was reported in Tanzania in 2007 of a person who survived after falling into much cooler lava. According to field reports from Smithsonian, the lava was at 1,000°F during the accident, and the person who survived it was still recovering and in pain more than 155 days later.

How is Lava Monitored?

Given the high level of harm an erupted lava can exert on the environment, it is only wise for appropriate authorities to put in the work to prevent or mitigate lava hazards. One of such measures is the use of global positioning systems or receivers to help map out current lava flows as precisely as possible.

The signals are gotten through radio waves transmitted from satellites orbiting the earth, providing relevant data for tracking lava flows that may be advancing into human settlements.

What Natural Materials Are Found in Lava?

While one may wonder if any good can come out of a fiery semi-fluid rock, there are reports of little deposits of precious stones, like diamonds found in new-formed rocks.

Renowned researcher Galimov, in his research, carried out alongside some American mineralogists, revealed that tiny diamonds were found in lava rocks formed during the lava fountain phase of the eruption. However, unlike grasses and wood, lava couldn’t disintegrate this precious stone that had a melting point of 7,280° Fahrenheit.

What is a Lava Fountain?

The eruption of Mount Etna in 2013 is the highest recorded lava fountain.

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A lava fountain is a jet of lava spray acted upon by pressure that forcefully ejects from the vent into the air. The highest recorded lava fountain was in November 2013 during the eruption of Mount Etna in Italy. The fountain reached a height of 8,200 ft (2,500m) for 18 minutes, peaking briefly at 11,000 ft (3,400m).

Types of Volcanic Magma

There are three types of magma: basaltic, rhyolitic, and andesitic magma.

  • Basaltic magma: Some of the prominent features of basaltic magma include high iron, calcium, and magnesium content, with a correspondingly low level of sodium and potassium. Temperatures observed in basaltic magma range between 1832°F to 2192°F.
  • Unlike basaltic magma, the rhyolitic magma is rather high in potassium and sodium, with corresponding low magnesium, iron, and calcium content. Rhyolitic magma occurs at temperatures ranging from 1202°F to 1472°F.
  • Andesitic magma occurs at temperatures ranging from 1472°F to 1832°F and is moderately composed of potassium, sodium, magnesium, and iron.

It is noteworthy that the constituting mineral content and temperature naturally influence the momentum of magma flow.

What is a Caldera?

A caldera is a vast depression formed when an erupted volcano collapses. There are various types of the caldera, including:

  • Basaltic calderas: These calderas are often connected with the summit collapse of shield volcanoes.
  • Crater-lake calderas: These are linked with the collapse of stratovolcanoes. 
  • Resurgent calderas: These types of the calderas are unique in their ways because they lack connection with a single centralized vent. They are the largest volcanic structures on earth, with a 9 to 62 miles in diameter.

What are Pyroclastic Flows?

Pyroclastic flows are a combination of a fast-moving current of hot gas and volcanic matter that flows away from a volcano at an average speed of 62mph. These pyroclastic flows are regarded as dangerous, as they can easily burn and melt anything in their path from grassland, buildings, snow, and ice at temperatures between 390°F to 1,500°F.

Fun facts about Volcanoes, Magma, and Lava

  • Volcanoes are a buildup of solidified lava eruptions taking steep-sided shapes over time.
  • Lava became a global name for semi-fluid rock after Mount Vesuvius erupted in 1737.
  • Magma is formed from an incomplete melting of mantle rocks.
  • Mount Tambora eruption in 1815 was the deadliest volcanic eruption that took place on an island in Indonesia, plunging thousands into starvation.
  • Igneous rocks are majorly formed from solidified magma and lava.

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