State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School


Testing the Speed of Lava: What It Says about Escape Times & Mars

Understanding how lava flows is critical when homes and roads are in a lava flow’s path. A community may have a day to evacuate, or its residents may have a week or more, with enough time to move what they can to safer ground.

At Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, post-doctoral research scientist Elise Rumpf has been developing experiments to test how quickly and in what patterns lava flows over different types of material, such as sand, gravel or larger rocks. (Watch the videos below to see some of the differences.)

The experiments show that there are clear differences in velocity, which many lava flow models overlook, Rumpf explained in a talk today at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco. In the short audio clip above she describes those differences, how she and colleagues are able to simulate lava flows, and what their findings mean for communities near volcanoes.

Rumpf’s work on lava also has wider applications beyond the Earth’s surface.

By understanding how lava moves over different materials on this planet, scientists can study images and data of other planets and have a better idea of those planets’ volcanic evolution and the surfaces hidden beneath their lava flows. In the second audio clip, Rumpf explains how a behavior sometimes seen when lava flows over melting permafrost in Iceland is helping scientists understand features spotted on Mars.



Learn more about Elise Rumpf’s work with Lava in Iceland and about other work underway at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.

Banner featuring a collage of extreme heat images.

Recent record-breaking heat waves have affected communities across the world. The Extreme Heat Workshop will bring together researchers and practitioners to advance the state of knowledge, identify community needs, and develop a framework for evaluating risks with a focus on climate justice. Register by June 15

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