Comedian Ed Byrne has teamed up with Oxford University scientists to help explain the science of volcanoes.
In a new animation the stand-up star is the voice of Hank, the computer controlling a mini-submarine that takes viewers deep beneath the ocean to find out how volcanoes are born. Hank is our guide on a fantastic voyage inside a volcano's plumbing system that explores tectonic plates, time travel, and explosions.
The animation, Underwater Volcano Disaster, is the latest in a series of videos from Oxford Sparks, a web portal giving people access to some of the exciting science happening at Oxford University. The passenger aboard the sub is our animated hero Ossie, a friendly green popsicle who has previously investigated heart attacks, the coldest things in the Universe, and the Large Hadron Collider.
'It isn't every day that Oxford University asks you to play a rogue computer piloting a submarine inside an exploding volcano, so I couldn't resist!' said Ed Byrne. 'I like the idea that by watching everything going wrong for poor old Ossie – as he gets shaken, shrunk and boiled alive – you're actually learning something about how volcanoes are made deep beneath the ocean. It goes to show that exploring the latest science can be a whole heap of fun.'
Professor David Pyle of Oxford University's Department of Earth Sciences, lead scientific advisor on the project, explained that the key concept he wanted the animation to show was the way that the melting process in subduction zones – places where one tectonic plate moves under another – is caused by changes in the minerals that make up the rocks that are being subducted.
'The way that we have done this is to send Ossie along the path that water molecules follow during subduction,' said Professor Pyle. 'They are taken up into minerals by reaction (in this case, olivine converts to serpentine), then released at depth as a fluid when serpentine breaks down at high temperature. This fluid then rises, causes melting and gets dissolved into the magma deep inside the earth, before bubbling out of the magma as it rises into the volcano plumbing system.
'I am delighted with the way that Karen Cheung (the animator) has captured both what rocks actually look like when we look at them under a microscope; and has also managed to illustrate the way that fluids and melts percolate through rocks in the mantle and crust as they rise.'