The Army Bombed a Hawaiian Lava Flow. It Didn’t Work.


Why have been two evidently unexploded bombs sticking out of a lava tube on Hawaii’s Mauna Loa? Which is what Kawika Singson, a photographer, questioned in February when he was climbing on Mauna Loa, the colossal shield volcano that rises 55,700 feet from its base under the sea to its summit.

Mr. Singson had stumbled on relics of just one of volcanology’s extra quixotic disaster response plans. These gadgets, described in additional detail a short while ago in the U.S. Geological Survey Hawaiian Volcano Observatory’s Volcano Check out site, have been two of 40 dropped by the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1935 in an attempt to cease lava from plowing into Hilo, the most populous town on the island of Hawaii.

While Hilo was spared as the lava stream obviously shed its ahead momentum, it wasn’t the last time that humanity attempted to fight volcanic fire with hearth of its personal. History is crammed with schemes to stop molten kinetic rock, and the ineffective 1935 bombing and others clearly show that lava flows are incredibly rarely “a power we human beings can reckon with,” stated Janine Krippner, a volcanologist at the Smithsonian Institution’s Worldwide Volcanism Application.

Dense, superheated lava does no matter what it desires. It undoubtedly can’t be drained away. Handful of limitations can stand up to its incandescent anger. If lava threatens a harbor by the sea, pumping billions of gallons of seawater at it may possibly sluggish it down, as Iceland learned at Heimaey Island in 1973.

Credit score…Jack Lockwood/U.S. Geological Survey

And then there is explosive lava diversion. As significantly back again as 1881, it was thought of to quit a lava circulation headed toward Hilo. It was in no way attempted the pile of gunpowder remained unused, and spiritual conviction was commonly credited with halting the burning river.

The incendiary concept nevertheless struck a chord. Lava generally travels extensive distances in reliable tubes or in channels of its individual design and style. Some wondered, why not sever these perilous volcanic arteries? Bombs shipped by land could function, but aerial bombing could be additional precise and speedier.

It remained absolutely nothing additional than a concept until finally an eruption in 1935. That December, a pond of lava breached its levees and advanced on Hilo at a amount of a mile for every day. Fearing it would achieve the city and its watershed, Thomas Jaggar, the founder and first director of the U.S. Geological Survey’s Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, known as on the Army Air Corps. On Dec. 27, 10 Keystone B-3 and B-4 biplane bombers struck the lava flow, targeting its tubes and channels.

50 percent these bombs have been packed with 355 pounds of TNT. The other 50 percent were being not explosive, and instead developed to emit smoke so the pilots could see wherever the bona fide bombs landed. Mr. Singson identified a single of these inert gadgets previous month.


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