What does lava smell like?

Answered by Jarrod Smith

Lava, as it flows, can emit various smells depending on the materials it encounters and burns along its path. The scent of lava can be quite distinctive and can change depending on the environment it is flowing through.

One common scent that can be associated with lava is the smell of burned material. When lava flows through a forest or over grass, it can incinerate the organic material beneath it, resulting in a scent similar to that of a campfire. This smell is often described as smoky or charred, with hints of wood and vegetation.

I had the opportunity to experience this firsthand during an eruption on Kilauea, one of the world’s most active volcanoes. As the lava made its way through the lush vegetation, the air was filled with the aroma of burning plants and trees. It was a mix of earthy, woody scents with a hint of sweetness from the plant matter. The smell was quite intense and lingered in the air, creating a unique atmosphere.

It’s important to note that the smell of burning material is not the only scent associated with lava. Depending on the specific composition of the lava, it can also release other odors. For example, if the lava contains sulfur, it may produce a strong and pungent smell reminiscent of rotten eggs. This is due to the release of sulfur dioxide gas during volcanic activity.

In addition to burned material and sulfur, other compounds present in the environment can also influence the scent of lava. For instance, if the lava flows over water or interacts with oceanic minerals, it may release a saline or metallic odor. This can be particularly noticeable in coastal areas where lava meets the sea.

It’s important to approach lava cautiously and not solely focus on its smell. Lava is extremely hot and can cause severe burns or other hazards. It is always best to observe and experience lava from a safe distance, respecting the boundaries set by local authorities.

To summarize, the smell of lava can vary depending on the materials it encounters and burns. When flowing through a forest or over grass, it may emit a smoky, campfire-like scent due to the burning of organic material. Additionally, the presence of sulfur or interaction with water can contribute to different odors associated with lava. It is a unique and powerful experience to witness the olfactory impact of an active volcanic eruption.