Hamilton lab analyzes recent Hawaiian eruption

Published May 23, 2018 at 4:00pm

CLINTON — Samples of Hawaii’s destructive lava have been analyzed in the Hamilton Analytical Laboratory (HAL) for the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory (HVO) scientists to better understand the on-going volcanic eruption.

The chemical composition of lavas can help scientists determine where the magma formed, how long it was stored underground prior to eruption, and how rapidly it ascended to the surface. This information, when combined with geophysical and historical data, will help scientists interpret the progression of the current eruption, and help to model and predict future eruptions.

Four samples of the lavas erupted were received by HAL on May 10. The rocks were collected from lava erupted at fissure 6 on the night of May 5, making the less than week-old “baby rocks” some of the youngest rocks on Earth at present.

Flowing lava is usually collected by tossing a steel bucket on the end of a wire into the 2,200 degree (F) molten lava, rapidly pulling it out, and dunking the bucket in a water-filled can to quench the lava to rock. The four samples were analyzed, and the chemical data for each sample was sent to HVO scientists on May 11.

The most significant earth materials analytical instrument in HAL is an X-ray fluorescence (XRF) spectrometer housed within the geosciences department that enables Hamilton and other academic institutions to have access to exceptionally high-quality chemical data.

XRF is a measurement technique that uses x-rays, an energetic portion of the electromagnetic spectrum that includes microwaves and visible light, to determine the elemental makeup of materials ranging from rocks to minerals to soil – even maple syrup.