The creation of Mount Doom comes as a shock at the end of The Rings of Power‘s episode six. It all happens so fast, and now we know why the orcs were building trenches and tunnels and why Adar sought the sword hilt of Sauron Theo found. All were pieces of Sauron’s plan, wherever he may be. In the aftermath we see in episode seven, the pastoral Southlands become Mordor, and Adar’s orcs can live without fearing the sun. We asked geologist Dr. Jim Lehane a few key questions about the possibility of such a quick-acting volcano and whether anyone could survive the creation of Mordor and Mount Doom on The Rings of Power.
Can Water Cause a Volcanic Explosion Like Mount Doom’s?
Once Theo’s sword releases water into the tunnels and trenches on The Rings of Power, it flows into the magma chamber of Orodruin, a dormant volcano. “The magma has large amounts of water and gas dissolved in it,” says Lehane. “It’s this gas that builds up pressure over time. If enough pressure builds up, eventually the cap on the volcano breaks, releasing the pent-up pressure.”
Adding more water to the magma chamber and blocking all the pressure-releasing vents with water could kick-start a volcanic explosion. “Theoretically, I believe it is possible, just maybe not at this speed,” says Lehane. “The water would have instantly cooled the top surface of the magma, creating a superabundance of steam, building up pressure. Assuming the volcano was already ripe for erupting, theoretically, this could push it over the top.”
How Far and Fast Can Volcanic Eruptions Travel?
Even with tremors and the orc chant of “Udûn,” the Southlanders and Númenóreans celebrating their victory have less than a minute to react and nowhere to hide. According to CBR, Charlotte Brändström, director of both episodes, studied real-life volcanoes to lend realism to these scenes. This includes events in New Zealand, Italy, and the Canary Islands in the last few years, as well as the famous destruction of Pompeii in the year 79.
Mount Vesuvius’s pyroclastic flow buried Pompeii in ash up to 19 feet deep. “It is one of the deadliest phenomena on earth,” says Lehane. “It’s basically a cloud of super-heated ash and gas that flows down the sides of a volcano into the surrounding areas at speeds up to 300 mph. Everything gets vaporized.”
According to Pliny the Younger, who watched the Mount Vesuvius eruption from a few miles away, the cloud included lightning like we see from The Rings of Power‘s Mount Doom. Volcanic lightning can occur in the storms created by an eruption’s build-up of static electricity and particles in the air. It is even more likely in the presence of water.
How long the eruption lasts varies and is not always predictable. “It’s really a matter of the size of the magma chamber with how much ash can be created and how far it can spread.” Scientists studying Yellowstone’s supervolcano estimate the magma chamber to be 37 miles long, 18 miles wide, and five miles deep. Luckily, there’s no reason to believe it will erupt anytime soon, but if it did, the eruption could last for years.
The migrating Harfoots are just north of the mountains bordering Mordor. Their autumn home, The Grove, is scorched by lava bombs. “The explosion would initially come out of the main release spot, which is often the main vent but not always,” says Lehane. “But with an eruption usually comes earthquakes of some variety, and these could open other vents which also could expel gas, heat, and lava.”
Could Anything Survive The Eruption of The Rings of Power‘s Mount Doom?
Hundreds of people in Pompeii died in the heat of the pyroclastic flow, which can reach 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit. But many people evacuated the city, as it was preceded by 18 hours of tremors and pumice rain coming from the mountain, warning of an explosion. That anyone in Tirharad survived is a miracle.
As for the land, if Mount Doom continues to erupt for thousands of years, it explains why nothing grows. Ash blocks out the sun and lava covers the ground. However, if the eruption ended and the volcano once again became dormant, the land would likely flourish. “Volcanic soil is some of the most fertile on the planet,” says Lehane. “The ash adds nutrients to the soil that make it great for planting crops.”
The creation of Mount Doom on The Rings of Power is a semi-realistic environmental storyline instead of pure mystical magic. This comes courtesy of J. R. R. Tolkien. The showrunners harken back to his recurring anti-industrial themes. For those of us who enjoy a little science in our fantasy, the sequence left us with more than a few questions. Answering them with help from geologist Dr. Jim Lehane helps us enjoy the sense of awe The Rings of Power is capable of invoking. Mount Doom’s eruption and the creation of Mordor on The Rings of Power certainly evoked that.
Melissa is Nerdist’s science & technology staff writer. She also moderates “science of” panels at conventions and co-hosts Star Warsologies, a podcast about science and Star Wars. Follow her on Twitter @melissatruth.