What are they on about?

David Newnham erupts at some questions about volcanoes

What would happen if you threw uranium into a volcano? Does volcanic activity give rise to plague? Having just stumbled on a website devoted to vulcanology, I could bore you with the answers. But, to be honest, the questions are more interesting.

"Ask an expert," invited the University of North Dakota, not guessing how many children would do that. The result is a list of more than 800 enquiries, with answers.

"Where are volcanoes most popular?" asks one correspondent. "Are there more disadvantages or advantages?" asks another. And dozens of children want to know if volcanoes are worse than earthquakes.

A lust for gore is evident. "If you put your hand in flowing lava, will your hand just burn, burn off, or will you die from severe burning?" asks one child, and several dwell on scenes in the film Dante's Peak, where people are boiled in hot springs and a boat is "eaten" by sulphuric acid.

Dozens of children - and not a few teachers, I suspect - are keen to experience an eruption at close hand. "Assist me with preparing a 'simple' and safe volcano for homeschool," writes one without irony, while another wants to create "a papier-mache one that erupts lemon juice".

Many of the questions are charming in their naivety. "Can you enter a volcano when it is not working and put some lava in your pocket?" asks one child, while another wants to know "What time of day do volcanoes erupt?" And, naturally, there's concern about the actual contents of lava lamps.

Not surprisingly, the vulcanologist's job arouses almost as much curiosity as the fire and brimstone itself. "Can I make a good living being a vulcanologist?" asks one shrewd customer, while a budding psychiatrist enquires, "Did you do anything in your childhood that might have indicated you were interested in volcanoes?" If you ask me, the best thing about being a vulcanologist would be the fun you could have answering these questions.

"What does a volcanic eruption sound like?" KKKABOOM!!! "Do you happen to know a compound volcano with exactly 16 vents?" No.

But then, with questions like these, who needs answers?

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