There are a number of natural disasters that have pushed people to come up with innovative solutions. From new building codes to help reduce wildfire spread from past fires such as the Australian fires of 2020 to earthquake-resistant buildings the power of people to think up ways to live with natural disasters is astounding. One innovative infrastructure development that hasn’t gotten the attention it deserves is heat resistant road panels created to keep highways travelable during and after a volcanic eruption.
For many people roads are the only way to escape the danger of a volcano. This creation by the Hawaiian Department of Transportation will undoubtedly keep people safe while reducing post-eruption infrastructure repair costs.
Volcanoes act as a direct connection between the earths’ surface and the underlying magma that lives in the center of our planet. The channel allows for magma – the red-hot, molten and semi-liquid mix of rock and gas that flows around the center of the earth – to rise up to the surface. As gas gets trapped and builds up within this channel, the pressure can sometimes result in an eruption. The big bursts of lava out the top of a volcano is the result of this pressure releasing.
When magma gets pushed through one of these channels, erupting from a volcano, it becomes lava. Lava is basically another term for mama that is on the surface of the earth instead of under the earths’ crust or living inside a volcanic channel.
Every year, there are between 50-80 volcanic eruptions around the world which take the lives of around 560 people. More than 500 million people live within an “exposure range” of a volcano and this number is getting surprisingly larger every year.
As populations boom, cities grow and more people end up living closer to volcanoes, the ability to live safely in harmony with this natural phenomenon depends on a few different factors. Eruption detection devices help to provide some warning signs to give people the ability to escape from a danger zone in time. Modern science has a better idea of the long term dangers associated with eruptions, including falling debris, ash, earth tremors as well as the more obvious things like lava flow.
Roads play a key role in moving people out of danger zones and keeping populations safe in the event of an eruption. That is why these lava resistant highway panels are so inspiring – they literally save lives.
The 2018 eruption in Hawaii is a perfect example of how destructive a volcano can be.
Cooling lava forms volcanic rock that can create huge walls and barriers across roads, through towns and in rural and urban areas alike. Over 200 homes were destroyed, costing individuals over $300 million collectively in damage. Another $236 million worth of damage was done to public buildings, roads, schools, water and sewage lines and other forms of infrastructure.
Roads in particular are at risk of damage from eruptions because of heat transfer. The asphalt warms as heat transfers from the lava and magma into the pavement and across the road. The spike in temperature can cause it to crack and split.
In an area that depends on roads to help people evacuate to safety, this type of damage could endanger lives and put people at risk of not being able to evacuate.
The heat resistance road panels were created by the Hawaiian Department of Transportation to reduce the heat transfer that happens in roads and to keep temperatures stable. Prior to their installation, road temperatures would see a spike from 175 to 275 degrees Fahrenheit. With the use of these innovative panels, temperatures stayed at or near 135 degrees.
Less cracks and broken roads not only make them safe to travel after a volcanic eruption but also reduce the amount of money needed to spend on road repairs.
Just like with hurricanes, tornadoes and earthquakes, there’s really nothing that humans can do to stop a volcanic eruption. These heat resistant panels are just one more example of how the innovative mind of humans can help us work with nature. We can’t stop lava flow, but it’s pretty spectacular that our main mode of transportation can be protected during one of the most devastating natural disasters out there.