There's a thrillingly creepy video making the internet rounds: I saw it when my friend Sean sent me a link. It shows Kilauea guide Eric Storm's hapless GoPro camera left in a crack in a Hawaiian lava field, filming away as a brutally-hot pahoehoe flow looms ever closer:
People, I will admit: seeing an active lava flow from the perspective of that poor camera completely creeped me out. It felt like how a horror movie is supposed to feel. Those lobes of lava seemed HUGE. They were inexorable and terrifying. You don't have to imagine what it's like to be consumed by lava because you're in the camera's perspective, watching it happen.
You watch the camera literally catch on fire.
And then everything goes black.
Until there's light, and people, and rescue. Wow.
It's a happy ending. But it's also an astonishing ending, because it seriously shouldn't have been possible. GoPros are tough, but I looked at their specs, and they aren't rated up to fresh lava. In fact, the Hero models, which this one seems to be, are all supposed to shut down if they exceed 125°F.
So maybe it's the housing? From the photos in the post, it looks like it's the blackout housing. It's listed as waterproof up to 131 feet (40 meters). It's not guaranteed fire- or lava-proof at any depth. And while they may provide a skosh of insulation, they don't officially make the camera able to operate in temperatures in excess of 125°F.
To get lovely pahoehoe flows like the one in the video, you start with a nice mafic magma, usually basalt. It needs to be low-viscosity, so it flows easily. And it needs to be flowing over a relatively flat area, because if it gets going too fast, it'll break up into sharp, chunky a'a, and won't be able to go back to being pahoehoe again. It will also need to be somewhere between about 1,100°C to 1,200°C, which is 2,010°F to 2190°F.
Yups. That flow in the video is over 2,000°F.
And the camera isn't supposed to be able to operate over 125°F.
This true Hero of a camera pluckily filmed itself catching on fire and being immersed in 2K+°F basalt, and survived to not only tell the tale, but film its own rescue. Which, according to its owner, wasn't long after it had been buried, so it still had to be hotter than heck. Way to survive, GoPro!
And thanks to its wild survival skillz, this camera has given us an unparalleled view of how pahoehoe toes form. Such a cute name for something that looked so freaky and set an entire camera housing on fire, right? They're actually pretty awesome:
Slower moving pahoehoe flows will advance through the protrusion of small bulbous appendages at the flow front, called pahoehoe toes.... As the lava surface cools and thin skin becomes more viscous, progressive breakouts will occur, thus advancing the flow forward.... Where pahoehoe toes advance rapidly, usually down steeper slopes, an elongated protrusions may emerge, called entrail pahoehoe.
These small protuberances are common along the edges and flow fronts of pahoehoe flows advancing across flat or gentle slopes. The pahoehoe toes will grow and merge together to form a broader flow front which inflates resulting in the breakout of additional pahoehoe toes, and the continual advance of the lava.
Entrail pahoehoe. Basalt is neat, y'all.
I don't recommend any of you try this yourselves. But if you do (with expert assistance because please please please don't try this on your own!), and you very very carefully retrieve the camera, and you get fantastic video? Absolutely send it my way!