Saturday, December 02, 2006

The Volcano

Aloha! In the past week I've travelled back to Kilauea Volcano on our Big Island, and have been staying on top. Conditions are a bit rough, and the weather is rainy. Sorry that communications are so bad, but even cel phones don't work up here.

Words can not describe this place, but I will try. The Big Island is built atop 3 main volcanic summits. Mauna Kea is the tallest mountain on Earth when measured from its base. Mauna Loa and Kilauea have both been recently active. All three are shield volcanoes similiar to those on Venus and Mars.

The huge main caldera of Kilauea is stable enough to hike inside. The smaller Halemaumau Crater within is considered the home of Madame Pele, and is still hot. The most recent eruption come from the Pu'u O'o vent. Lava from this vent travels in subsurface tubes to reach the sea. Our Big Island is getting bigger each day!

The volcanoes which created Hawaii are intimately connected with physics and cosmology. The source of Eath's core heat is a tiny singularity, no bigger than a grain of sand but weighing as much as a moon. It is far too tiny to suck us up, and in fact eats no more mass than a typical human. That small amount, converted into radiation, has kept Earth's core hot for billions of years.

Old books told us that the heat comes from "radioactive decay." The evidence against that is all around me. Hawaiian soil is red, indicating a high iron content. The islands slowly travel across a "hot spot" originating near the core-mantle boundary 3600 km below. The iron-rich Hawaiian lava originates near the core, for the mantle contains almost no iron.

Earth's core has a temperature in thousands of degrees, hot enough to melt rock. If you go into the field and find the most radioactive samples you can find, they are not about to melt. Those samples come from the crust, which is richer in radioactive elements than either mantle or core. The concentration or radioactive elements is too sparse to melt rock.

The only way to melt those rocks is in a chain reaction. That occurs very rarely, as in the Oklo uranium mine or when humans build a reactor. The most common radioactive elements, like Potassium 40, would have decayed by now. The old hypothesis of radioactive decay simply does not hold water. A small singularity would keep the core hot indefinitely.

Presence of a singularity also explains Earth's magnetic field, and why that field is independent of the geographic poles. The singularity also explains how Earth and other bodies coalesced from a promordial cloud of gas. Particles of the infant solar system were far too tiny to assemble themselves into protoplanets. Earth formed around a tiny singularity as a pearl forms around a grain of sand.

Pearls, volcanoes, telescopes, coral reefs and cosmology are all connected. The Big Island is a fascinating place.


Blogger Kea said...

I really hope to get to the Big Island one day. We have active volcanoes on the North Island. My mum grew up not far from Mt Ruapahu. One can usually walk or ski around the crater lake, but occasionally it spews.

12:32 PM  
Blogger Kea said...

Sorry, that's Ruapehu.

12:33 PM  
Blogger Kim said...

Hello Babe in the Universe!

I just now saw your comment in my blog...months embarressing!

Yes, Tasmania is an awesome place and I hope to get an opportunity to go back someday.

Your blog is way cool and have some awesome pictures.


12:35 PM  
Blogger L. Riofrio said...

HI Kea: I hope to see NZ sometime soon. The Pacific holds some truly beauiful places.

Nice to hear from you, Kim. I posted some pictures from SCAR back in July. Congratulations on your thesis defense. Lately I have faced some tough questions too.

6:34 PM  
Blogger CarlBrannen said...

Interesting. I hadn't realized that the source of the heat down there was not well known.

Hmmm. Do the other planets have these too?

12:09 PM  
Blogger CarlBrannen said...

Ah, here's a link. If Riofrio is right, we could have a "neutrino deficit" for the earth:


12:37 PM  
Blogger Kea said...

Hi Carl

Hmmm. Given the flexibility of the uranium/potassium scenario, I would guess that Louise needs a quantitative angular profile, which would be far more skewed to the poles, rather than a simple deficit prediction. Louise?

4:46 PM  
Blogger CarlBrannen said...

The other thing that came to mind is that with a very localized source, one would expect some sort of localized melting. Is that compatible with the known fact that the core is solid?

I've seen speculation that the core is a single iron crystal.

5:40 PM  
Blogger Kea said...

Given that neutrino detection generally requires large surface areas (eg. balloons in Antarctica) I guess the volcano experiment is rather about thermal gradients. Is the core solid? I don't know. But presumably this is a large difference between the standard vs Black Hole scenarios. Can we detect the crystal surface and its depth, perhaps? The combination of such evidence with neutrino profiles from Antarctica could make a good case.

5:51 PM  
Blogger Kea said...

Isn't the iron core idea an attempt to explain the magnetic field? In which case, we don't need it. Even with localised heating, convection would keep the whole core molten, no?

6:04 PM  
Blogger CarlBrannen said...

Latest info is the core is not a single crystal. And has patterns of convection that are suspiciously like what one might expect with a singularity.

7:15 PM  
Blogger Kea said...

Gee, thanks for the link! So there is an inner core / outer core surface, but the inner core isn't quite solid. Wow, the alignment with the rotation axis makes the distinct magnetic axis problem sound serious (for the standard scenario).

7:46 PM  
Blogger L. Riofrio said...

Hi all. From seismographs, we know that the outer core is liquid, and the inner core is solid. (Makes one wonder why) There is evidence of a further discontinuity at a radius of only 300 km from the centre.

9:56 PM  
Blogger Kea said...

Ahh! Thanks. That would be tricky to explain with a simple iron core.

10:09 PM  

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