Steaming lava blocks on 27 Nov 2011 near La Restinga (El Hierro) photographed from the air by Guardia Civil / INVOLCAN
Lava balloons are hollow gas-filled pieces of lava floating to the surface above effusive submarine vents. Many lava balloons have been produced and observed during the ongoing 2011-12 shallow submarine eruption at El Hierro.
Floating lava blocks could result from the detachment of pillow-lava edges followed by the ascent of blocks with sufficient gas content. It is also possible that hot, gas-rich lava fragments result from small submarine lava lakes or fountains.
A thin frozen skin of lava seals the gas cavity, and the block might then rise as a hot lava balloon. During ascent, the gas exsolves and nucleates inside the hot fragment while the blocks expand. Once at the surface the interaction between the hot blocks and the seawater produces white steam columns. At the same time, while cooling at the surface, the blocks crack slowly, lose their magmatic gas and sink. Sometimes when water enters inside the hot blocks, they blow up, violently throwing fragments several meters high.
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