How long does it take for lava to cool down?

Published: Jul 28 2011 11:20:55 AM EDT

Lava cools very quickly at first forming a thin crust that insulates the interior of the lava flow.

As a result, basaltic lava flows can form crusts that are thick enough to walk on in 10-15 minutes but the flow itself can take several months to cool!

Since lava is a poor conductor of heat it cools slowly under neither the outside crust.

Also the insulating properties of lava causes it to cool slower and slower over time.

Thick stacks of lava flows (30 m or 100 ft thick) can take years to cool completely.

An extreme example is a lava flow that erupted in 1959 and partly filled the pit crater of Kilauea Iki.

The “ponded” flow was about 85 meters thick (about 280 ft thick).

It was drilled in 1988, and there was still some mushy not-quite-solid stuff down near the bottom, 29 years after it erupted!