Phenomena

Lava Balls

The continuing eruption of Kilauea is revealing phenomena rarely seen by those of us who are not volcanologists. One of the most surreal examples so far is colloquially known as a “lava boat,” seen above floating its way down a river of lava emanating from Fissure #8. The more technically accurate term is “accretionary lava ball,” but the colloquialism seems rather fitting, as long as this partially-solidified chunk of lava is still floating down the channel. 

These lava balls form in a’a lava channels, which tend to be faster-moving and more turbulent. As chunks of lava solidify in the channel, they roll and gather more material, allowing them to get larger and larger. When broken open, the lava balls usually have a spiral interior as a result of this rolling formation. It’s essentially the lava equivalent of making a snowball. (Video credit: I. Marzo via M. Lincoln; via Ryan A.)

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