The hidden, scientifically accurate backstory of Tokyo Disney Sea’s volcano

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RocketNews 24:

Tokyo Disney Resort, as anyone can tell you, is a land of magic and whimsy. As we’ve shown before, it’s also somewhere you can experience the pinnacle of attentive service, whether you’re an inattentive motorist or a lost cat. But did you know that in addition to all that, Tokyo Disney Sea is actually a place that you can enjoy for its subtle yet precise depictions of natural science?

It’s true, as explained by one Japanese Twitter user who’s uncovered and documented the geological principles behind one of the park’s most iconic features.

It’s safe to say Twitter user Shohei Nanri’s inquisitive mind works a little differently than most people’s. On a recent trip to Disney Sea, Nanri decided to search for ways to enjoy the park not as a star-struck animation fan, but as a scientist. He wasted no time, noticing that the globe in the center of the fountain outside the ticket booth has no tilt to its access.

View image on Twitter

But while that’s a miss in the scientific accuracy department, things quickly improved once inside the park itself. First stopping by the knowledge-themed Fortress Exploration complex, Nanri observed the castle’s Foucault pendulum, which knocks over a series of pins during the day due to the rotation of the earth.

View image on Twitter

And while he’s not sure if Disney’s Imagineers planned it or not, Nanri found a waterfall in the walkway linking the Mermaid Lagoon and Mysterious Island Sections of the park (directly opposite the gyoza dog concession stand) where the light refracts into a rainbow at precisely 12 noon on sunny days.

View image on Twitter

But where things start to get really interesting is inside Mysterious Island, the design of which is, ironically, remarkably sensible if you know the science behind it.

View image on Twitter

The most dynamic feature of the area is Mount Prometheus, a constantly smoldering volcano that soars some 51 meters (167.3 feet) above guests’ heads. Much as Cinderella’s Castle is the symbol of Tokyo Disneyland, Mount Prometheus is the first image that comes to mind for many when they think of Disney Sea. Its non-Japanese name isn’t just a quick way to add a bit of worldly flair, though.

As Nanri explains, the lava of most Japanese volcanoes is highly viscous, so once its destructive path is halted, it tends to harden into symmetrical masses. But take a look at the volcanic runoff at Disney Sea.

View image on Twitter

View image on Twitter

Those ropy, coiled formations are the product of a low-viscosity lava flow, closer to the pahoehoe style seen in other countries than Japan’s indigenous a’a lava flows. As such, it stand to reason that Mount Prometheus isn’t a Japanese volcano, and therefore it wouldn’t make sense for it to have a Japanese name.

But that’s just the start of the tale Disney Sea’s lava has to tell. Looking at the map, we can see that following an eruption, some of Mount Prometheus’ lava would flow towards the shoreline that separates it from the Mediterranean Harbor.

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The molten rock would cool as it travelled, and Nanri explains that once it did, it could solidify in hexagonal columns, which is exactly what you can see near the waterfront.

View image on Twitter

That’s not the only effect an eruption would have on the surrounding landscape, though. The entrances to both of Mysterious Island’s rides, Journey to the Center of the Earthand 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, owe the look of their entrances and line-up areas to the nearby volcanic activity.

▼ Locations of Journey to the Center of the Earth (1) and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (2)

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Let’s start with 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, where parkgoers hop aboard a vessel and become part of Captain Nemo’s crew of explorers.

View image on Twitter

You might notice the sunken body of water is surrounded by craggy rock formations. How come? Because, as Nanri explains, it’s a crater lake formed by a steam explosion, which explains why you can still see some sort of gas fizzing to the surface of the water in the above photo.

However, the scientific significance is deepest, appropriately, at Journey to the Center of the Earth.

View image on Twitter

Given the theme of the attraction, it’s no surprise that the entrance leads guests through a cave. This isn’t just any cave, though. Coming back once again to that low-viscosity lava, the thinner consistency means that even as the top layer of the flow comes into contact with the air, cools, and hardens, the lower layers can stay in motion, in the process forming a tunnel just like the ones the line for the ride snakes through.

View image on Twitter

In the case of repeated eruptions, the next lava flow would come through and melt away the hardened rock, making the cavity larger and also creating the shelf-like ripples on its walls.

Of course, while this is the scientific way in which the tunnel would form, it’s still not a controlled, entirely stable method. A lack of structural integrity in spots is to be expected, which accounts for the skylight-like openings that can be occasionally seen overhead.

Finally, Nanri leaves us with one last example of attention to minute details.

View image on Twitter

Looking up at those streaks of discoloration, you might think it’s just accumulated grime, or maybe water staining. It’s neither, though, according to Anri, who points out that this is what would happen as the sulfur deposits which melted in the lava flow later recrystallize.

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