That’s awesome!

DrSkySkull thinks it is anticlimactic, but I’m kind of impressed. To find out what it would look like if a person fell into lava, some investigators made up a bag of 30kg of organic camp trash and threw it into a lava flow (they apparently couldn’t get any real human volunteers).

Spectacular! After I die, you have permission to throw my corpse into a volcano. I said after …I know you’re anxious to see the show, but no jumping the gun. Patience.


  1. PaulBC says

    “After I die, you have permission to throw my corpse into a volcano.”

    Nothing personal, but I think that’s more likely to annoy than placate the volcano gods.

  2. Trebuchet says

    An accurate representation would, of course, be a deceased pig dressed in human clothing. Perhaps a virgin pig.

    And where is Dana Hunter now that we need her? I’m worried about her.

  3. Trebuchet says

    Oh, and I must pick a small nit: That appears to be a lava lake in a crater/caldera, not a lava flow.

  4. Matrim says

    I dunno, I hear that a dude threw an apple core into Vesuvius once, and we saw how that turned out.

  5. Michael says

    Not quite as impressive as Gollum, but then he had a magic ring to catalyze things.

  6. Dave, ex-Kwisatz Haderach says

    That’s… pretty damn cool. Where do I sign up (for, you know, after I kick it)?

    @ Trebuchet #2, I’m worried too. Has anyone heard anything since that last post on the twitter page?

  7. says

    I’m curious what the dynamics of the situation was to get that effect. If I had to guess, the long drop broke up the cooled surface that was containing the hotter material, which started bubbling up through openings, which further disrupted the surface, bringing out more hot material.

  8. says

    This does seem to be mutually exclusive with your plans to have a sky burial

    Nah, it just means it’s a race: Whoever gets a hold of the body first decides how to dispose of it. Within the parameters established by PZ, of course. We’re not barbarians.

  9. Akira MacKenzie says

    Hmmm… I always thought that being far less dense than molten rock, a body would just sit on top of the lava and cook like a sausage on a frying pan.

  10. dianne says

    30 kg is pretty small for a human equivalent. Couldn’t they find 70 kg worth of trash?

  11. Al Dente says

    Pele lives!

    But Brazilian football has never been the same since he retired.

  12. blf says

    We’re not barbarians.

    More multicultural berserkers.

    Don’t worry, with all the fighting over poopyhead’s body, there’s gonna be plenty of bodies. The main problem I foresee is finding any chunks large left of any body to be worth the trouble of lugging to the volcano (or whatever). I mean, you look like a right twit pouring about a gramme’s worth of unidentifiable mush on a pool of lava (or whatever).

  13. astro says

    “You were the Chosen One! It was said that you would, destroy the Sith, not join them. It was you who would bring balance to the Force, not leave it in Darkness.”

  14. Dave, ex-Kwisatz Haderach says

    What are you talking about? There was no lava in any of the 3, and only 3, existing Star Wars movies.

  15. says

    Does the equivalent/comparable chemical output of this combustion spill into the atmosphere as compared with a standard interment?

    I only ask because I’d like to return the bulk of my nutrients to the planet, but I’d be concerned about locking tasty bits into a long term relationship* with a caldera instead of leeching them into some soil.

    *Even phone contracts make me edgy….

  16. drken says

    Pretty cool, but did any of the volcanic island cultures actually throw people (virgins or not) into volcanos, or is that just something that happened in movies?

  17. wilsim says

    @17 bronzedog – I thought it may have been due to the effect of adding water content to the molten silicate. It may have been an effect and not the cause, but puffs of steam and gas seemed to boil up and evaporate with each upsurge in the eruption.

  18. Amphiox says

    So that scene at the end of Lord of the Rings with Gollum wasn’t accurate, eh?

  19. Al Dente says

    Amphiox @30

    So that scene at the end of Lord of the Rings with Gollum wasn’t accurate, eh?

    Gollum fell into running lava. This experiment was with standing lava plus Sauron wasn’t distracted by an army being rude next to his country’s front door.

  20. Ichthyic says

    Nothing personal, but I think that’s more likely to annoy than placate the volcano gods.

    I’d call that a bonus.

  21. psanity says

    Wow. I’m astonished at how big an effect that is, and how long it lasts. I wonder if it’s more to do with breaking the crust, or more to do with being organic material? Or something like how it’s a bad idea to add water to hot oil?

    @Trebuchet and @Dave — Just this morning I was poking around the internet for news of Dana. I don’t really do Twitter, but I have an account, and looked for you, Trebuchet, in hopes you might have news, but couldn’t determine which was you. I don’t want Dana to be pressured by people worrying, but it would be awfully reassuring to have some word she’s within reasonable parameters of OK, and whether there’s any tangible help we actually could supply — money, rocks, Archie McPhee gift certificates, extra cats, mana, whatever. I hope she knows it’s OK to ask for anything she needs. My Twit-o-nym is at psanityblog, or I can be contacted at my nym at gmail, if anyone knows anything. Geology always makes me miss her, also birds.

  22. shadow says


    PZ could require he be ‘deposited’ with a bible, koran, bom, etc. — that should annoy not only the volcano gods, but plenty of death cultists!

  23. Vicki, duly vaccinated tool of the feminist conspiracy says

    Me as well, if it’s compatible with being an organ donor (or if I die of something that makes my corpse useless for that). I suppose I ought to tell my partners….

  24. HolyPinkUnicorn says

    Cool. I always thought space “burial” was the way to go–after you’re dead!–or possibly promession (basically the body is frozen with liquid nitrogen, then shattered by vibration), but now this looks to be the winner.

    Maybe if I have enough funds when I’m older I can somehow combine all three; flash frozen with LN, placed in a rocket and launched into space, then the reentry capsule comes back down into an active volcano. Yes, it seems silly to have a reentry capsule to protect human remains just so they can then be burned up in a caldera instead, but we must respect the dead!

  25. Ichthyic says

    Or something like how it’s a bad idea to add water to hot oil?


    first thing I learned in general shop class as a teen was:


    because bad things will happen.

    …followed by the inevitable story of little Johnny, who was blown up in a kiln explosion when he dropped his soda/glass of milk/spit/peed into the kiln.

    true though; superhot molten material does tend to get explody when you drop water into it. and you’re right, it’s mostly because of the rapid expansion of water vapor. same thing that causes your hot oil to splatter on you when cooking wet bacon.

    *looks at the burn marks on the back of hand from last bacon frying episode*

  26. Menyambal says

    I’m thinking that a lot of the effect would have been the same with a rock. I see a crust there, and imagine that the solid crust had sealed in the gas bubbles in the molten lava. When the crust broke, the gases went off like a geyser, in a chain reaction of reduced pressure.

    The liquid in the garbage would have just gone up in a flash of steam, and I don’t see the solids setting off nucleation like Mentos in Diet Coke … and that would require dissolved gasses, now, wouldn’t it. But if the liquid lava were really liquid, the water could have gone a ways down, maybe.

    I thought it was damned impressive.

  27. says

    drken @28:

    Pretty cool, but did any of the volcanic island cultures actually throw people (virgins or not) into volcanos, or is that just something that happened in movies?

    Hmmm, interesting question. A quick google search turns up examples of human sacrifice _involving_ volcanoes, but I haven’t found any examples of people thrown into volcanoes. Perhaps its just a movie thing.

    Last week the photograph of a 15-year-old Inca girl appeared in the press, a beautiful and unblemished teenager who was sacrificed more than 500 years ago on top of a 22,000ft volcano in northern Argentina. Her mummified body was found by archaeologists in 1999 and is now on display for the first time in a museum in Argentina. Drugged with coca leaves and plied with alcohol, the girl was left to freeze to death high in the Andes, a seemingly senseless death to modern readers. The revelation of the girl’s untimely death raises an obvious question: why did the Incas, despite being one of the most powerful, sophisticated and accomplished cultures in the New World, feel the need to sacrifice their children on mountain tops?

    Then there’s this:

    During the 11th century, warlike Tahitians arrived in the Hawai’ian Islands, conquering, enslaving, sacrificing and largely displacing the descendants of the original Marquesan settlers. Into this bloody landscape came Pa’ao, the terrible and powerful Tahitian kahuna who was affronted at the lack of respect the Hawai’ian Ali’i commanded and at the apparent weakness of the Hawai’ian gods. He sent back to Tahiti for the warrior chief Pili and together they brought worship of the powerful war god Ku to Hawai’i and strengthened the kapu system of laws and power of the Ali’i.

    Worship of Ku demanded human sacrifice, which was performed at luakini heiau throughout the parts of Polynesia where Ku was venerated. Pa’ao caused Mo’okini Heiau to be constructed on the site of a previous, smaller heiau, of stones passed hand over hand from Pololu Valley. During this process, if a stone were dropped it was left where it lay to preserve the rhythm of passing; the scattered line of dropped stones can be followed all the way back to Pololu to this day.

    The alter stones were brought by war canoe from Pa’ao’s home heiau of Taputapuatea (lit. sacrifices from abroad), the most powerful and most feared heiau in Polynesia and the center of Ku worship. Boulders for cornerstones brought hundreds of miles across the sea from Taputapuatea were laid with human sacrifices
    Beneath and gave this heiau a formidable power and the air of menace and despair that clings to it to the site to this day.

    Outside the heiau walls can be found a large phallic rock and a flat stone with a cup-like depression near the top. Here, on this holehole stone, the baked bodies of human sacrifices were stripped of flesh and the bones saved to be rendered into fishhooks and dagger blades. Not much mention of the fate of the human flesh from these sacrifices is made, but it is universally documented that Polynesians everywhere were cannibals.

  28. Ichthyic says

    The liquid in the garbage would have just gone up in a flash of steam

    you’re not getting it.

    superheated, rapidly expanding steam.

    haven’t you ever cooked something in hot oil that splattered?

    moisture can cause those droplets of hot oil to get flung a LONG way.

  29. Trebuchet says

    @16 & 33: I’ve got nothing. I emailed Ed and PZ and Ed says he’s heard nothing and is also concerned.

  30. rogerfirth says

    When it’s my time, I hope the impact velocity is so high all that’s left is a short burst of x-rays.

  31. Ichthyic says

    also, for those who think you would be immediately incinerated on hitting lava… nope.

    there is a display in the geology dept at the University of Hawaii that has a pair of asbestos pants that were worn by a geologist that survived dropping into a moving river of lava while monitoring the outflow of an eruption a few decades back.

    the lava cooled around his legs, creating a solid pocket where the temperature was cool enough it didn’t incinerate him, and he survived for the few minutes it took them to pull him out with a helicopter.

    so, what this has to do with dropping the bag of organic refuse is… the moisture contained in it would not have immediately evaporated just on contacting the surface of the lava, but would have been driven down into the lava, where it would then quickly produce superheated steam bubbles which caused the eruptive process you saw.

    no, it’s not like mentos in coke, as in the surface lava, most of the gasses would have already escaped the liquid.

  32. says

    My will is going to be very strange. It seems I’m going to have to specify the destination for various bits of my body: this part goes into a volcano, this part gets a sky burial, this part goes to feed the marine invertebrates off the shore of the Olympic Peninsula, that bit gets bronzed and mounted on a pedestal, this scrap goes to medicine, this other very interesting bit gets donated to science for study.

  33. Lithified Detritus says

    Count me in for cremation by lava. What a send-off!

    Count me in also for concern about Dana. I hope she is OK – the long silence is disturbing.

  34. Menyambal says

    Yeah, you are right, I was underestimating the effect of the water making steam. Just two days ago I was considering boiling water under gasoline, too. I blame the video included with the linked post, where a can of Coke gets run over by a lava flow and just whistles.

    But I will say that it was not all the steam. I say the top layer of the lava, the solidified part, was serving as a foamed insulative cap and as a strong pressure lid. The layer of lava under that was rich in bubbles that had risen to the top, and in lighter lava with dissolved gasses, all under pressure.

    Like I said, it went off like a geyser when the top was broken. You can see that top layer collapse into a crater, at one point. I say a lot of that eruption is the lava and its own gasses.

    The liquid in the garbage would have expanded to maybe 100 cubic meters, at a rough calculation, which is about the size of the eruption. I still want to see a rock as a control.

    I was reading something on meteors or bombs the other day, and recall that an impacting body will only penetrate its own length if the densities are similar and the impactor is spherical. So either that garbage stopped almost at once on hitting heavy lava, and the steam had a short trip to go back out, or it went down into foamy lava, which foamed up out of the hole along with the steam.

    Somebody needs to go there and conduct more tests.

  35. Ichthyic says

    It seems I’m going to have to specify the destination for various bits of my body:

    it’s now on my bucket list to make a list like that.

  36. Ichthyic says

    Somebody needs to go there and conduct more tests.

    I know of no geologist who would disagree.


  37. says

    trebuchet @ 11:36 am:

    An accurate representation would, of course, be a deceased pig dressed in human clothing.

    live pigs were good enough for NATO:

    Britain said on Thursday it was withdrawing from ‘Exercise Danish Bacon’ in which pigs are shot with high-velocity weapons to train NATO medics in messy field surgery.

    Armed Forces Minister John Reid said Britain would suspend cooperation with the Danish-led operation pending a review, which is expected to take three months.

    “Provision of first-class medical care for members of our armed forces that are wounded in combat is of paramount importance,” Reid said in a statement.

    “Nevertheless, British participation in Exercise Danish Bacon … is of concern to me,” he continued. “I therefore directed that participation in Exercise Danish Bacon should be suspended pending a review of the ministry of defence’s training methods.”

    … In the past, Britain has sent a small team of medics to garner experience in emergency surgery and has used the exercise to train colleagues back home, but it has never sent soldiers to shoot the pigs, the spokesman said.

    The pigs are deeply anaesthetised before being shot under veterinary supervision, he added. They never regain consciousness and are put down after the surgeons have attempted to treat their wounds. Pigs are used as their body tissues most closely resemble human flesh.

  38. PaulBC says

    “My will is going to be very strange. It seems I’m going to have to specify the destination for various bits of my body”

    John Prine beat you to it by about four decades, but I think I like your list better.

  39. Ichthyic says

    ‘Exercise Danish Bacon’

    the actual operation itself sounds positively horrific, but I have to admit to chuckling at the name they gave it.

  40. birgerjohansson says

    Volcanic burial…? Naah.

    Just put my carcass into a cannon.

    Then locate one of those super-exclusive night clubs that won’t let you in unless you are a niece of God, or own Halliburton.
    Fire my corpse into the nightclub, preferably aiming at the center of the dance floor, and watch the reactions of the guests.