Supervolcano Pharaoh's Snake


supervolcano is basically a volcano that is one thousand times more powerful than a normal volcano.

you can see here that there is a logarithmic scale called VEI. this means that each step in the ladder is 10 times bigger than the previous. each volcano is measured in how much matter it spit out.

so an example for a normal volcano is Mount St. Helens recently in 1980 , spitting out 1 cubed kilometer of lava and ash;

an example for a supervolcano is the Yellowstone Caldera , which is predicted to spit out 1000 cubed kilometers of lava and ash.

according to the "Toba catastrophe theory" , the last sopervolcano eruption which was about 75,000 years ago, caused a global volcanic winter for a few years, so there was no sunlight for plants, so there was no food and this killed almost all the humans in the world! so you understand that in a supervolcano the volume is 1,000 bigger than a normal volcano, but the damage is much much worse.


the best idea so far how to solve this came from NASA, they want to cool the magma chamber by drilling deep vertical holes into the ground near the magma chamber (the heat "engine" of the supervolcano) and pumping water in and out (in a closed circuit). the water goes down in the rock tunnel that acts like a pipe in a radiator. the tunnel passes next to the steaming magma chamber, the water heats up and by doing this takes a little of the magma's heat, so eventually the magma will cool down. the water goes up to the surface where the steam is used to rotate turbines to make electricity.

NASA’s $3.5 Billion Idea To Save Earth From A Supervolcano Apocalypse (in the youtube of Tech Insider)

this solution would have been ideal because it prevents the eruption in the first place, and it gives us clean green energy, but it can't work because it has 2 problems:

(1) dangerous: if the hot lava inside will touch the water there this will produce so much steam gas (which occupies a lot more volume than liquid water) that the magma chamber wall will explode, and by this you can trigger a supervolcano eruption.

(2) slow: if everything works fine the process is so slow that they calculated it would take 1,000 years until you can cool the magma to a safe level in this way.


my solution borrows it's name from a classic chemistry demonstration , this is what our final "product" will look like, but on a gargantuan scale. of course in our case we don't need to supply the hot gas that is ejected here, because the volcano ejects the material, we just need to find a way to contain it.

Pharaoh's Serpent Demonstration by NileRed (i heartily recommend that you turn off the volume, he chose terrible music for this video)

so how do we contain and lock inside "cells" such a huge amount of lava (molten rock) and vulcanic ash (which like glass) and gas (sulfur)?

my first thought was epoxy resin. this is because resin plus glass creates fiberglass which is very strong. but the problem with this is that the epoxy resin doesn't glue in high temperature.

other kinds of materials are heat resistant, but don't have the other required properties to make the "cells" of the snake. ceramics are not flexible, and metals are expansive. they are also heavy so we can't take a very large amount of them by airplanes and drop them from above. if we just lay down the material on the ground it might burn because then the material comes in touch with the extremely hot lava before it had a chance to cool down.

the most practical material to use for suffocating the eruption is what we have in abundance there - the very same material that the volcano is spitting out. i am saying suffocating in a very physical sense, because if the weight falls back down instead of being shot to the sides in parabolas, after some time the force of pressure from above (total weight of snake) will be equal to the force of pressure from below (pressure left in magma chamber) and the eruption will stop. the thing which stops the eruption from happening right now is that the weight of the rock above the magma chamber is pressing on it and right now it's stronger than the force of the magma.

but how do we "convince" the lava not to be shot to all sides and instead to stay in that area and fall back onto the supervolcano? we use a positive feedback loop (like a "snowball effect") by impacting the smallest pieces the tiny rocks, which if we can stop them will together slow down and eventually stop (on average) the small rocks, which stop the bigger and bigger rocks and so on.


we use a material that is produced exactly in this conditions of heat plus sulfur gas - volcanized rubber. rubber is light so it can be dumped from airplanes, and meet the ejected gasses in such a height in the atmosphre that they cooled down to the necessary temperature not to destroy the rubber.

(by the way: vulcanized rubber was developed by Charles Goodyear and the tire company is named after him)

Vulcanization of Rubber | 12th Std | Chemistry | Science | CBSE Board | Home Revise

Home Revise

then when it comes down it's like a gentle net or mesh of fiberglass which holds some of the little bigger particles and they in turn create a little stronger net or mesh that catches bigger particles and so on.


first of all it can't "fall to the side" because unlike a normal volcano, the supervolcano ejects material in a very wide surface. so if the blob of rubber misses one rising patch of sulfur gas it simiply hits another one on the long way down from the height of an airplane to the ground.

we already talked about why it doesn't burn - because by the time the sulfur gets to the high elevation it cools down, both by occupying more space (like an air conditioner cools) and also by the cold air in heights, the higher you go the colder it gets.

what about turbulence?

there are definitly a lot of eddy currents in the gas that arrives. it's not like an "air hockey" table with orderly uniform holes that blow air. the way i imagine it, and forgive my disgusting imagery is the latin phrase:

vir prudens non contra ventum mingit

[a] wise man does not urinate [up] against the wind

which is a latin phrase meaning don't go against the conventional wisdom (prevailing opinion). but here i will consider it very literally. if you have an ununiform current of air blowing, and you throw drops of pee into it, as you might imagine it all (or most of it anyway) comes back at you. so this also answers the question what happens when drops of liquid meet a turbulent gas. it's not "lost".

what i think will happen is that small bands of rubber will form, imagine it like a rubber band that you use in the office, that you cut with scissors so instead of a closed circle they are a curved thin line. so we have many lines like this between the hot ash particles and this all sticks together forming a substance like flexible fiberglass (rubber is like resin but more durable to the heat). the turbulence works in our favor to provide the mixing so as much surface area of the rubber is coming into contact with the gas and volcanic ash.

here is a video where we learn that raindrops actually are not in the teardrop shape, but instead they form a parachute shape (after they reach terminal velocity) which for our purpose is great because they catch more ash this way like a bag. remember the rubber is more viscous than the water so i guess it can form larger parachutes.

What Do Raindrops Really Look Like?
It's Okay To Be Smart (i think the name of this YouTube channel says a lot about our times - not good things).


let's see first what we can NOT do:

we CAN'T scale up the toy "weapon" from childhood (see in this link the photo titles "The Disintegrator" which is a rotary gun version) :

because there is no easy way to revert rubber back to liquid form once it turned into a solid. at least that's what i gather from Wikipedia:

and from the answers here:

(notice that the original question hints that you simply heat the rubber but according to the answers this is not true).

as you can read here in Wikipedia about rubber tires (although they are already vulcanized so maybe it's a little different)

the way to recycle the rubber is to heat them without any oxygen. but since we shoot the rubber onto the volcano in open air, there is oxygn in the air, so this will not work.

so we look at solutions from the firefighting department, because they have a similar mission, of spraying liquid over a specific area.

water cannons will not work, because even with water which is not viscous it can only reach "dozens of meters" which is too low.

so what we need is another tool from the arsenal of firefighters which is fire fighting airplanes called "water bombers". so we do "carpet bombing" but with rubber.

but in our case we fill them with liquid rubber. for ease of storage we can pack it in rubber bags and only slice the bag open when it's deployed over the target.

my suggestion is that we will maintain a continuous airborne alert like in "Operation Chrome Dome" when American bombers where flying all the time with hydrogen bombs ready to drop on the Soviet Union.

(by the way: if you like movies, in the middle of that operation period, two films were made: Dr. Strangelove (highly recommended!) and Fail Safe (which i hope to watch someday) ).

but this time it will not be used to kill all mankind but to save all mankind!


what if the volcanic ash grounds the airplanes?

as you can read at the end it interrupted an airplane that was 11 kilometers high!

of course the airplanes should try to reach the ash from upwind, and try to use the momentum of the rubber "package" to gain safe distance (the rubber will keep the original trajectory until it hits its target),

but still, what can we do if we missed our first chance to contain the ash?

we need to use what's already there to do thee job for us. since gas is lighter than liquid and solid, i assume what will get out first from the volcano is the very hot and corrosive volcanic gas.

so if we can catch it and ride on it, we could prepare in advance closed (and heat insulated) parcels of rubber, that will be lifted by the up going currents of sulfur gas and then we need to plan how at the right moment the parcels will open and rain rubber.

what is the toughest fabric we can use for the sail?

Polybenzimidazole fiber (PBI)

this i guess is the best alternative: this is the stuff that they use in astronaut's suits (see picture in Wikipedia: Replica Apollo spacesuit in the above link)

Dynamic Flame Test by PBI Performance Products

Zetex (a non toxic replacment for Asbestos)

this i think is the simplest alternative and can be made with all sorts of materials, some are very common like silica.

Ceramic-impregnated fabric

our design needs to be something between a drogue parachute and a hot air balloon.

the first gush of air is very strong and sudden (like drogue parachute), but after words we need the "blanket" that is spread on the ground at first (for maximizing the chance of catching the gas eruption), to take the shape of a hot air balloon (like a bag or parachute) so that the hot gas will not escape.

so i think the most logical shape (from symmetry considerations) would be sphere made of a lightweight but strong material, tied underneath a blanket from the toughest material we can get which covers it and is spread on the ground. the ideal shape of the blanket will be a sphere, but we need this tiles to cover the whole area (to minimize the chance that the "geyser" of sulfur will erupt between the blankets), so i recommend hexagonal shaped blankets with small weights tied along the perimeter so that the blanket will later take the shape of a sail or a balloon.

the sphere capsule can be made of aluminum which is strong and light metal. i think it can be designed to explode once it reaches a certain optimal altitude, using the pressure change of the air inside and outside (on the ground we have one atmosphere of pressure, in 10 kilometers we have less than 30 percent of that. we need to consider the expansion of the air inside the capsule in the beginning caused by the thermal expansion of the air from the heat of the gassed coming out of the volcano. so instead of ordinary air we can use in the capsule a noble gas that wouldn't expand so much from the heat (like argon, krypton, xenon and so on).

to insulate the hard protective shield (heat conducting aluminum) from the sensitive to heat cargo (liquid rubber) i suggest the capsule will be a sphere within a sphere. the rubber will be inside the inner sphere, and between the two spheres we use a material which insulates heat in high temperatures.

Review of High-Temperature Thermal Insulation Materials
by Maria Tychanicz-Kwiecien, Joanna Wilk, and Pawel Gil

in the article they also say: "As far as fibrous materials are concerned, the alumina-based insulation materials in high-temperature space shuttle applications ..."

and you can read in Wikipedia too that:

Alumina aerogels (aerogels made with aluminium oxide) are also being considered by NASA for capturing hypervelocity particles...

so i think since we want between the inner sphere and the outer sphere both components - the insulating aerogel and the popping gas - we should make room for both of them. for example blocks of aerogel evenly spaced all around and between them space for the noble gas. so the inner sphere "stands" on the aerogel blocks, but the inner sphere is still surrounded evenly on all sides by the noble gas.