Phenomena

Even Mountains Flow

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Over about 5 months of 2018, the summit of Mount Kilauea slowly collapsed as the volcano erupted. Seen in timelapse, it’s a remarkable reminder of the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus’s observation, “Everything flows.” All things change, so given enough time, just about everything can flow.

Fluid dynamicists actually capture this concept in a dimensionless ratio known as the Deborah number. Named for a Biblical prophet who states, “The mountains flow before the Lord,” the Deborah number is defined as the ratio between the time needed for a material to respond applied stress and the time over which the process is observed. In practice, a lower Deborah number indicates a more fluid-like material while a higher one represents more solid-like behavior.

Be sure to check out the full video. There’s some spectacular lava flow footage near the end – definitely a small Deborah number! (Video and image credit: USGS via Science; research credit: C. Neal et al.)

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