If a vol­cano de­stroys your house, can you re­build on top of the cooled lava?

Popular Mechanics (South Africa) - - How Your World Works -

YES, ALTHOUGH do­ing so re­quires in­ge­nu­ity, money, and, per­haps most im­por­tant, a de­cided in­abil­ity to take a hint.

First off, you still own your land, no mat­ter how much lava the an­gry fire gods have seen fit to slather on top of it. Thanks to a process called in­fla­tion, you might even en­joy that ocean view you’ve al­ways cov­eted. Janet Babb, a ge­ol­o­gist with the US Ge­o­log­i­cal Sur­vey Hawai­ian Vol­cano Ob­ser­va­tory, ex­plains that, due to in­fla­tion, a lava flow that starts out only 15 or 20 cm deep can wind up be­ing nine or more me­tres thick.

You’ll need some heavy equip­ment to deal with grad­ing and pre­par­ing to build on all that brand-new rock, as well as a spe­cial sur­vey to see how solid it is. ‘The main con­cern with lava has been if there are fis­sures or voids un­der­neath the area where you’re go­ing to build,’ says Hawai­ian ar­chi­tect Brian Taka­hashi. ‘That takes away from the sta­bil­ity of the struc­ture.’ If there are voids, you can either fill them with con­crete, like gi­ant cav­i­ties, or ad­just your site.

There are other hur­dles, as well – chief among them the strong pos­si­bil­ity that the new lava-crafted land­scape will leave nearby roads im­pass­able, as well as elim­i­nate ac­cess to mu­nic­i­pal wa­ter and sewer sys­tems. Peo­ple who in­sist on re­build­ing in such places ‘ have to be self-suf­fi­cient,’ Taka­hashi says. ‘They’d have to have their own wa­ter-catch­ment sys­tem, their own abil­ity to process the sewer waste, and off-the-grid power.’ They also have to be a bit hard­headed. ‘You re­ally have to have some­body who is will­ing to take the risk that the lava could at any time come back and take away your struc­ture,’ says Taka­hashi. So un­less you’ve got the guts, you might do bet­ter to em­u­late the an­i­mals and pick a dif­fer­ent spot to set up shop.

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