Date:26 July 2017
The island of Surtsey is made of extremely durable volcanic rock, with all the same ingredients as sturdy Roman concrete.
By Avery Thompson
Concrete is one of the world’s most versatile building materials. It’s used to build everything from sidewalks to buildings to dams. It holds up incredibly well under stress and pressure. But to build the world’s strongest concrete scientists are going to have to take a lesson from ancient Rome.
Ancient Roman concrete is the strongest in the world, so durable it survived 2000 years of environmental damage. Many Roman concrete structures stand just as tall today as when they were built. This is because of a unique concrete formula that scientists are still trying to figure out.
But they have a clue, and a group of scientists are traveling to the island of Surtsey in Iceland to drill a bunch of holes and hopefully find the answer.
The drilling plans for Surtsey island:
While the specific recipe for Roman concrete has been lost to history, we know the recipe involved volcanic ash and seawater. So to find out more, scientists are traveling to Surtsey, an entire island made out of volcanic ash and seawater. Surtsey was formed by an underwater volcanic eruption in 1963, and it could provide the missing ingredients for making Roman concrete.
The scientists will drill two holes, one parallel to a hole drilled back in 1979 and another at an angle. The first hole will enable scientists to study microbial life inside the volcanic rock. The second hole will allow them to study how the rocks and minerals formed. It’s this second hole that could provide clues to Roman concrete.
Surtsey is unique because when it formed the mixture of heat, volcanic material, and seawater created hydrothermal minerals that strengthened the rock. This makes Surtsey much more durable than other volcanic islands, and if we could understand this unique durability and strength we just might be able to reproduce it.
This article was originally written for and published by Popular Mechanics USA.