Season 2, Episode 1

The Volcano Trekker

Kayla Iacovino, Volcanologist and Experimental Petrologist

Follow Iacovino as she unearths mysteries deep within volcanos—collecting rock samples from across the world in order to better understand the powerful forces that created them.

More about this episode

When volcanoes erupt, gases blast from the earth in fast-moving pyroclastic flows destroying everything in their path. Torrents of molten magma create new landscapes. Massive calderas launch explosive boulders miles away.

But how do these destructive forces work? Scientists don’t have a full picture yet. It is currently impossible to fully understand the geochemical forces that lead to these destructive scenarios. But what if we could unravel this mystery by examining millennia-old cooled rocks and soils from these same eruptions?

Kayla Iacovino—part science fiction sleuth, part mountaineer—is doing just that. By hiking mountainous terrain or meandering through a city built on a dormant volcanic crater, the volcanologist collects rock samples from across the world in order to better understand the forces that created them.

At her experimental petrology lab at Jacobs-NASA Johnson Space Center, she subjects these samples to extreme pressure and temperature in “mini magma chambers” to recreate the conditions under which they formed. Ultimately, understanding how the molten materials deep within the Earth became rocks provides Iacovino insights about the overall geological makeup and origins of Earth.

a woman hiking through a desolate valley

Credit: © Science Friday

External Links
Kayla Iacovino's Webpage
Kayla Iacovino Interview On Science Friday