SCIENCE

This Is How Scientists 'Collect' Lava

It might be the most epic job in America.

For volcanologists in Hawaii, collecting lava is just another day at the office.

Kilauea, located on Hawaii's Big Island, is one of the most active volcanoes on Earth. The scientists who study its activity spend their days observing flows, analyzing lava samples and doing one of the coolest jobs ever.

The U.S. Geological Survey recently uploaded video footage from the point of view of a geologist collecting a lava sample, and the process looks too simple (and too awesome) to be true.

Geologists wear protective clothing -- the temperature of the lava can blister exposed skin even from a distance -- and use steel rock hammers to tear open the cooled shell that surrounds the molten lava, which is typically about 2,100 degrees fahrenheit.

Since the rock hammer is comparatively cold, the lava solidifies slightly and slides easily off the hammer into a bucket of water. 

The molten lava makes the water boil immediately, and according to USGS, "a fast 'quench' is needed to avoid chemical changes that result from the formation of crystals during slow cooling." 

A portion of the sample is saved for an archive while the rest is sent to be analyzed to determine its chemical composition and eruption temperature. Lava sample analysis helps the scientists at the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory understand the inner workings of Kilauea.

"For example, we can tell the difference between magma that has moved up quickly from deep within the Earth and magma that has been stored for many years in a shallow reservoir within the volcano," Janet Babb, a USGS geologist with the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, told The Huffington Post.

Tim Orr, the geologist whose perspective we are privy to in the footage, says there is rarely a dull moment when working with volcanoes, but even lava collection can get old if you do it often enough.

"It's the infrequent and unexpected activity on the volcanoes that is often most exciting," he told HuffPost.

A Hawaiian Volcano Observatory scientist collects a molten lava sample using a rock hammer.
A Hawaiian Volcano Observatory scientist collects a molten lava sample using a rock hammer.

If you need us, we'll be pursuing degrees in volcanology. 

Watch the full video below:

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