This is why volcanic clouds move so fast

Volcanic clouds.
(Image credit: Mario Tama/Getty Images)

The dangers of volcanoes don't end at hot magma and falling rocks — you also have to worry about the plumes of ash, smoke, and toxic gases that are just as deadly, but reach a lot farther. Thanks to new research, scientists might be able to better understand how these volcanic clouds work, and how we can minimize their damage.

Clouds of volcanic debris, known as "pyroclastic density currents," have long been a mystery because they move much faster than they should be able to, National Geographic explained. They stick to ground level and seem to have an unnatural momentum that allows them to race downhill, on level surfaces, and even uphill. But a new study published Monday in the journal Nature Geoscience revealed that volcanic gases are able to spread at abnormal speeds thanks to a cushion of air that reduces the amount of friction they encounter in their path.

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Shivani is the editorial assistant at TheWeek.com and has previously written for StreetEasy and Mic.com. A graduate of the physics and journalism departments at NYU, Shivani currently lives in Brooklyn and spends free time cooking, watching TV, and taking too many selfies.