How volcanologists define “spatter”


Golden syrup might not be the first material to spring to mind if you were after an experimental analogue with which to investigate the effects of ‘spatter’ around typical Hawaiian basaltic volcano eruptions. But spring it did to the mind of researchers Sumner, Blake, Matela, and Wolff, as recorded in a 2005 paper for the Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research (Volume 142, Issues 1–2, 1 April 2005, pp. 49–65) simply entitled ‘Spatter’.

The authors first define ‘spatter’.

“We define spatter as an accumulation of originally hot, fluid pyroclasts, which agglutinate on landing. Very fluid magma clots may also splash on landing.”

And then go on to describe experiments in which blobs of semi-diluted Golden Syrup were photographically recorded as they were dropped in small amounts from a capillary tube onto a glass surface, and in large blobs via a 7cm diameter glass tube – from heights of up to 3 meters. The idea was to replicate the behaviour of molten blobs of lava falling from a great height.

“Despite its importance throughout the Solar System, the transformation from falling fluid clasts to coherent liquid (lava) has not previously been investigated in detail.”

The full paper, with photos, may be found here:

Many thanks for the assistance of Dr. Sumner (Department of Earth Sciences, The Open University, Milton Keynes, UK) who informs Improbable that golden syrup “… is an accepted analog for lava/magma modelling in the geological world.” Later papers include, for example ‘Relationships between volcano gravitational spreading and magma intrusion’  (Bull Volcanol (2012) 74:743–765) describing experiments in which researchers used a tank of golden syrup, pumped by gravity, to grow sugary volcano-ettes.


But, for Improbable, ‘who/when/where?’ questions are as yet unresolved regarding the first application of golden syrup as a volcanological research model. If anyone can help us, please comment below and let us know.