In 2012, a video of a 'lava art craft walker' taking five steps against flowing lava on Sicily's Mount Etna, was posted on YouTube. Not surprisingly, it caused many viewers to question if a feat like that was even possible. Now, a geologist explains how it could have been done though he also warns that one should never try it, because a slight stumble and fall into the molten lava whose temperature ranges from 700°C to 1200°C, could result in the water inside the human body to vaporize, and cause it to 'explode from within'!
Erik Klemetti an Assistant Professor of Geology at Ohio's Denison University, unveiled his thesis in his volcano 'Eruptions blog' about two weeks ago, after observing the 40 second video clip closely. According to the expert, the lava the man is sprinting up has the normal dark crust that forms quickly because of the temperature differential between it and the outside air. However in this case it appears to be stony and rough - Something that scientists refer to as a'a lava, which unlike the fast flowing smooth unbroken lava flow dubbed panoehoe is 'walkable'. That's because it is slightly more viscous than water, which means it can hold light amounts of pressure for short periods of time, before collapsing.
But the hard looking crust can be also be very deceptive because it is not uniform and could be dangerously thin in certain areas. Another thing that may have helped is that it appeared to have been done in a confined lava flow area that was away from the volcano vent. However, despite all these 'positive' factors, there was nothing safe about this stunt. And while the man survived, as you can see on his last step, his footwear caught on fire, something the geologist attributes to the massive heat from the flow.
Erik therefore concludes that this walk is not a trick but something that is doable if, it is on the right kind of lava, the walker is quick and light on his step and most important of all, has luck on his side - So in other words, do not even think of trying it, if you ever come this close to an erupting volcano!
Resources: Dailymail.co.uk, wired.co.uk