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