Few things thrill and scare me in equal measure as much as volcanoes. My fascination dates back to the vinegar and baking soda-fueled eruptions of my grade school science classes and little boy history lessons.
Vesuvius, Pelée, Krakatoa – the exotic names have long been the stuff of my dreams… and nightmares.
During my last trip to Costa Rica, I added a new name to my infamous volcano list:
The tallest of Costa Rica’s 14 total volcanoes (elevation: 11,260 feet), Irazú actually consists of a series of craters, the whole mountain covering an area of 190 square miles. The summit easily visible from the capital city of San Jose, some 14 miles away. Scale to the summit on a cloudless day and you can actually see both the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean!
Oh yeah, Irazú more than lives up to its local nickname, El Coloso (The Colossus).
Irazú’s size is intimidating enough, but it’s what was discovered beneath it a few years ago that truly cements its place on my volcano list.
Highway From Hell
Let’s jog the memory banks on those grade school baking soda volcanoes. Remember how we learned that volcanoes have chambers beneath them within the crust that fill up with magma forced up from the mantle over long, long periods of time? And that eruptions occur when those chambers are filled, the pressure forcing the magma up through the crater?
Well, recent studies of Irazú eruptions from the 1960s reveals that the old science about volcanoes may not be that simple.
Large deposits of nickel, a trace element of the mantle, were found in ash from the Irazú eruptions. As nickel usually melts when sitting in magma chambers beneath volcanoes for those long, long periods of time, it was deduced that the Irazú eruptions were fueled by a more direct and much faster conduit from the mantle; a conduit scientists have taken to calling “The Highway From Hell.”
It sounds scary, but in reality the findings may make volcanologists better able to predict eruptions well in advance, thereby safeguarding more lives in the future.
Read more about the Highway From Hell here.
*Photo credit: Flickr user papermakesplanes.