1611: Baking Soda and Vinegar

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
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Baking Soda and Vinegar
Sure, it may not meet science fair standards, but I want credit for getting my baking soda and vinegar mountain added to the Decade Volcanoes list.
Title text: Sure, it may not meet science fair standards, but I want credit for getting my baking soda and vinegar mountain added to the Decade Volcanoes list.


Ambox notice.png This explanation may be incomplete or incorrect: First go at an explanation, but from a transatlantic perspective...
If you can address this issue, please edit the page! Thanks.

In popular fiction (and maybe in part in fact) the "Baking Soda And Vinegar" volcano is often a staple image of the science nerd at the science fair, unless all the science nerds are doing real imaginative science and the student(s) with the volcano exhibit are dragging out the old hackneyed stereotype. It may also be age-dependent, this being something that is relatively advanced science for the lower grades but rather a childish experiment in the hands of older students.

As the adult is probably about to point out, the 'volcano' exhibit doesn't (usually) actually demonstrate anything about volcanic activity, it is just simple chemistry - such as you usually conduct in a simple test-tube - dressed up to look more impressive, often with dye or other additives to make the 'lava' look realistic for the model, but unrelated to the geology it supposedly represents.

This volcano, however, seems to go beyond simple chemistry. The model replicates many of the dangers (aside from the pure lava) of a volcano, and appears to have been given scaled-down vehicles trying (and failing) to escape the dangers of the resultant mud-flows (a.k.a. lahars in professional terminology) being modelled.

Even more, this is not an isolated 'model volcano' but a vinegar-powered representation of a geological 'hot spot', such as with the islands of Hawaii, in which the spot moves with respect to the Earth's crust (or vice-versa) and generates a new volcano some way off. Despite this model being supported on a table, it appears that the 'project' extends some way beyond that and has somehow contrived further eruptions away from the table, the room and probably even the building.

The 'project' seems to be turning into a very thorough model of a much larger geological process and destined to produce a very real volcanic winter. Where a magma-powered volcano could produce vast clouds of dust, preventing the sun's energy from warming the Earth, in this case it's the airborne salt (probably sodium acetate) from the chemical reaction that appears to be in danger of causing crop failure. There's no mention of the corresponding environmental effects of the vast amounts of carbon dioxide (and/or aqueous carbonic acid) necessarily released in proportion to the ejected salt (presumably itself not left in solution).

It is especially troubling the child mentions her model volcano is an offshoot of a bakingsoda supervolcano. Supervolcanoes are massive volcano's, far larger than even the Decade-list volcanoes, whose eruption would likely trigger species-level extinction events comparable to the dinosaur extinction. Humanity can only hope the child is exaggerating in her description, but the symptoms witnessed by the adult looking out the window suggest otherwise. Randall has mentioned supervolcanoes before in 1053: Ten Thousand (title text) and 1159: Countdown, making it a recurring interest of his.

Title Text

In the title text the student expects extra credit for getting her model volcano added to the Decade Volcanoes list, a list maintained by International Association of Volcanology and Chemistry of the Earth's Interior of the worlds most dangerous volcanoes (currently 16). It is either an absurd notion or a very troubling achievement that a science fair project could achieve the threatlevel posed by the likes of Mount Vesuvius (which destroyed ancient Pompeii in italy, and threatens modern-day Pompei in the same manner), Mount Rainier (whose lahars could potentially destroy parts of Seattle) or Mauna Loa (which threatens all of Hawaii).


Panel 1

Girl: My science project is a baking soda and vinegar volcano!

Panel 2

Ponytail: Why do people make these? It isn't really even a science project. It doesn't teach anything about - Volcano makes FOOM!

Panel 3

Girl: See how the baking soda and vinegar mix with mud and ice to form deadly flowing lahars?

Panel 4

Girl: You can see the tiny cars trying to flee. Whoops! Too Slow

Panel 5

Ponytail: Um. This is a bit Grim. Girl: (interrupts Ponytail) Learning!

Panel 6

Background sound effect: <Rumble>

Panel 7

Girl: And now we're learning that this volcano is an offshoot of a vinegar hotspot rising from deep within the earth. annnd...

Panel 8

Background sound effect: <BOOOOM> (in white-on-black)

Panel 9

Girl (off panel): The baking soda supervolcano erupts, injecting clouds of salt into the stratosphere.

Megan (looking out the window): Why is it getting dark outside?

Girl (off panel): Learning is fun!

Panel 10

Girl: Sunlight dims. The earth cools. Summer frosts form. Crops die. We check the markets. Grain prices are rising.

Megan (off panel): I want to stop learning now.

Girl: soon, we all will.

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The only experience I have with such a volcano exhibit is from US TV programmes representing the nerds (or the desperate non-nerds with no imagination) at a science-fair in Stateside schools, but I laid down my impressions of the tradition anyway. No embedded links to anything, as yet, as I expect other people will know what needs explaining (or re-writing) better than me. - I was going to go onto Supervolcano territory, but I'm not sure it's supposed to be more than 'regular' increased volcanic activity, outside, albeit through the power of acid/base interaction (thus salt being the equivalent of volcanic dust plumes, no doubt). 10:00, 2 December 2015 (UTC)

Another trans-Atleantean here, I've expanded on your explanation with some links and the title-text, but your overall draft concurs with my experience of science-fair volcanoes being a stereotypical "easy/lame" project for science fairs 11:33, 2 December 2015 (UTC)

Humanity should hope that the supervolcano is built in scale, resulting in ONLY Decade Volcanoes level of damage. -- Hkmaly (talk) 13:50, 2 December 2015 (UTC)

According to the title text it is so no worries if you do not live close by or has to fly close to the ash clouds ;-) --Kynde (talk) 16:03, 2 December 2015 (UTC)

Isn't the girl the same one as in Feathers[[1]]? 23:08, 2 December 2015 (UTC)

I thought Megan was about to say that the mini volcano had nothing to do with the scientific method, which would fill in the holes mentioned by the incomplete box and thus complete the explanation. If anyone else agrees with me, I think we should edit it to say that (I'm too busy right now to do so.) 23:39, 2 December 2015 (UTC)

Agreed; changes made :) --mezimm 14:39, 13 October 2021 (UTC)

Can we all agree that this is a young Danish? Zakka (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

I personally think shes kinda a black hat type guy who caused unusual things to happen maybe her volcano is like a voodoo doll of sorts for the real earth which now suddenly has such volcanoes because of her. Needforsuv (talk) 11:39, 3 December 2015 (UTC)
No I do not think she is a Danish/Black Hat. But I think she is a recurring character as in 1104: Feathers mentioned above. Similar girls have been used before and after this. Maybe we need a category for her. She is not evil, but when people dismiss her for being a child or not being scientific, she may get mean. Of course this case is quite bad. But had it not been for the comment to begin with maybe she would not have set off her super volcano ;-) --Kynde (talk) 16:10, 22 July 2016 (UTC)
Other girls like this: 1659: Tire Swing, 1352: Cosmologist on a Tire Swing and 1058: Old-Timers.
other xkcd volcano/lava comics

WhiteDragon (talk) 14:14, 3 December 2015 (UTC)

Are you suggesting we add a volcano category? 01:31, 6 December 2015 (UTC)

I don't think that the model "extends some way beyond [the table]". I think the joke is that it's a small-scale model of an actual, geological baking soda/vinegar volcano, countering Ponytail's implied claim that it isn't based on real geology. -- 01:48, 5 December 2015 (UTC)