Under pressure (and temperature): Volcano lessons learned from laboratory experiments

Yellowstone Caldera Chronicles is a weekly column written by scientists and collaborators of the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory. This week’s contribution is from Behnaz Hosseini, Ph.D. student, Madison Myers, assistant professor, and Roberta Spallanzani, post-doctoral researcher, all in the Department of Earth Sciences at Montana State University.

In the plot of many classic science-fiction novels, like Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” and H.G. Wells’ “The Invisible Man,” a curious scientist is conducting a ground-breaking laboratory experiment that goes awry. While Yellowstone scientists aren’t up to any questionable laboratory activities like those, they do often conduct challenging and meticulous experiments that are foundational to our understanding of many volcanic phenomena. But, you ask, what exactly do geologic experimentalists do, and how does their work help us understand volcanoes like Yellowstone?

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The goal of experimental volcano research is to recreate our observations of natural systems in the laboratory under controlled conditions. This can include designing experiments that mimic lava flow rate due to changes in internal properties like viscosity (resistance to flow). The results of these experiments, when combined with natural observations, can be invaluable for understanding the hazards posed to communities and

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