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Durham University

Department of Earth Sciences

Large Analogue Volcanic Apparatus (LAVA)


The large Analogue Volcano Apparatus was a novel, large-scale experimental facility for the investigation of the two-phase fluid dynamic phenomena that occur in basaltic volcanic conduits. The facility, which was situated in a quarry <10 km from Durham University, was designed to address two principle research areas:

1) How are regimes of eruptive behaviour controlled by the vesicularity of basaltic magma?

2) What are the physical controls on gas-slug driven eruptions?

The modular design of the facility ensured it's flexiblility to address many further research questions. At the heart of the facility was a vertical conduit of transparent polycarbonate which is 12.15m tall and 25cm in diameter. This conduit could be accessed and observed along its full height. At the base of the conduit was a tank – the analogue magma chamber – into which gas can be injected. The analogue magma was fed into the chamber from a header tank ensuring that strictly constant hydrostatic pressure can be maintained in the chamber. Buoyancy resulting from the injected gas drives eruption. 



  • Gas compressor and injection/regulation system (up to 50 litres/second)
  • Gas injection flow meter
  • 'Slug trap' for repeatable slug volumes
  • Liquid flow meter
  • Pressure transducers at bottom and top of conduit
  • High speed camera (up to 1200 frames per second)
  • 2 wide-angle cameras (HD up to 60 frames per second)
  • 9 channel data logger
  • Site office with power, light, heating and water



Unique features
  • Large size allowes both high and low Reynold's number regimes to be accessed
  • Large size allows decompression phenomena to be investigated
  • Constant-pressure or zero-flux boundary conditions can be imposed at the bottom and top of the conduit
  • Recirculating system allows long duration, large-volume eruptions to be modelled
  • Gas injection may be continuous, or as discrete 'slugs'

A precursor to LAVA was featured on a National Geographic documentary "How to build a volcano".

Image credit: Kirstie Wright