Nuke a Volcano?

I watch a lot of educational stations on TV. (One of the better ideas producers ever had.) Every month, there are always programs about volcanos showing, ranging from those long extinct, to those ‘sleeping,’ to those active and close to populations.

Has anyone ever wondered what would happen if a Nuclear bomb were dropped in an active volcano? Say, one out in the middle of an ocean on deserted island. Would it seal the volcano? Might it blast the crater, flattening the flow, containing it in a shallow bowl? Would it send lava fragments into orbit? Would it crack open the volcanic vent and create a super volcano? Could it possibly cut down on the dangerous emissions of ash and gas? Would it sink the island? Generate a tidal wave?

I doubt if it would crack open the world.

Use a small nuke, about the strength of the original ‘Big Boy.’ Could one be used to redirect the flow?

Aside from the potential of fall out (something France and Pakistan don’t worry about lately), what could happen. How about with a volcano on land and not an island? That would reduce the possibility of a tidal wave.

Cut down on dangerous emissions of ash and gas? Do you think the ash is more harmful than say, radioactive fallout? What would happen if this was tried and it didn’t work? I’d say the risk is totally unaccpetable for what’s probably a minimal gain at best. A few spectaular instances aside, volcanoes don’t really cause that much damage and even when they do, you don’t always have a lot of warning.

Let’s think about this a bit further. I’m aware that we do all nuclear testing underground now, but it’s in a pretty well controlled environment. I really don’t think stuffing a big ass bomb down the bowels of the earth is a very good idea.

It depends on how far down it goes (that is, how deep the funnel is before you come upon the first traces of lava.)

Certainly, the sudden force and heat (which can reach about 25 million degrees F for a split second) would cause a Mount St. Helens effect, blasting a great portion of the surrounding rock from the funnel. This sudden blast would also weaken the fracture zone holding the flow back allowing it to flow down the mountain much easier, since it would no longer have the funnel’s height to overcome.

In any event, it would certainly not stem the flow, or create a bown to contain it… The pressures within the earth are indeed tremendous, and would easily blast out of whatever situation the nuke creates, in my opinion.

Hey, I enjoy watching stuff blow up, but really…

A nuke set off underground pulverizes the rock for several hundred feet around the epicenter of the blast, so I think the most likely occurrence would be to promote a large, undirected lava and/or pyroclastic flow. It would unlikely to cut down significantly on dust or gas emissions, and would add significant radioactive content, making these discharges far more noxious than they already are. It would not send lava fragments into orbit; even a relatively small volcanic eruption releases more energy than dozens of fission bombs.

Islands don’t sink in an eruption. The destruction of Krakatoa, for example, apparently occurred because the eruption allowed a huge influx of seawater to come in contact with the molten rock in a volcanic vent; the water then flashed to steam and basically blew the island apart. Most so-called “tidal” waves are caused by strong earthquakes with an offshore epicenter, which may or may not be associated with a volcanic eruption. The setting off of a nuke, on its own, would be unlikely to generate a tidal wave.

Back in the '50’s various schemes were floated involving the use of nuclear devices for excavation; digging a newer, larger Panama Canal, for example. These were all abandoned as it would have been too difficult to control the results. This problem would be compounded by the relative difficulty of predicting a volcano’s response to the blast.

All in all, a bad idea…

  1. Actual magma chambers for both active and dormant volcanoes are typically no shallower than 3 km deep and probably deeper (6-9 km). For most “small” eruptions (St. Hellens, Montserrat), it’s just a small <1 km^3 slug of magma that works its way up and erupts. For a large eruption, you may “tap” the magma chamber, but it’s gonna be too deep to be tapped effectively by an explosion, I think.

  2. Who says the magma wants to explode, anyway? Depending on its density, it may be happy right where it is in the Earth, ready for a slow crystallization and retirement as a stock, sill, or dike (especially if there is no recharge). It takes lots of time for a magma to evolve to a composition prone to explosiveness. A dormant volcano may have a magma chamber underneath it, but it may not have evolved a volatile-rich rhyolitic (high-silica) cap yet and thus not ready to explode–either naturally or via bombing.

And, like UncleBeer said: what would be the point? Radiocative ash is several magnitudes worse than any of the natural varieties. Give it up folks–you can’t control nature, it will win. That’s why I’ve goined forces with the Earth; if you can’t beat 'em, join 'em!

If this idea excites you, you should view this movie:

Crack in the World (1965)

Dr. Steven Sorenson (Andrews) plans to tap the geothermal energy of the Earth’s interior by means of a thermonuclear device detonated deep within the Earth. Despite dire warnings by fellow scientist Ted Rampian (Moore), Dr Sorenson proceeds with the experiment after secretly learning that he is terminally ill. This experiment causes a crack to form and grow within the earth’s crust, which threatens to split the earth in two if it is not stopped in time.

They are already using conventional explosives to redirect the flow of lava, at least experimentally. A few years ago, I saw a documentary about it with respect to Mt. Etna.

In Iceland several years ago they used seawater and many high-pressure pumps to change the path of a lava flow that was threatening to close a harbor. Basically, they cooled and solidified the lava in one area which forced the main flow to go on a different path.

A good version can be found in “The Control of Nature” by John McPhee.

Maybe it’s a bad idea, but how cool would it be?? All in all, it’s an idea that I’d like to see someone try… suitably far away from MY house, of course!

Another idea: I think the Pres. should authorize a special display on the fourth of July and blow off a couple of thermo-nukes about halfway from here to the moon! Talk about fireworks!!

While I like a nihilistic display as much as the next young male, I think the resulting EMP effect (the collapes of the communication and electrical grids of most of the planet) just aren’t worth it…

I could be wrong, of course… it might be worth it…