Real volcanoes are marvelous, of course – but fictional ones can be rather interesting to think about too. How about Mount Doom in the Lord of the Rings books and movies? What about Death Mountain in the Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, the very fiery mountain that inspired me to become a volcanologist in the first place?
A friend of mine was having a gander at some of these thought experiment-style articles, and, knowing that we’re both avid video game players, wanted to know what I thought about the weird gastronomic volcano in Super Mario Odyssey. So, of course, I had a ponder and decided to eke out as much science from this multi-hued, mad edifice as possible.
If you haven’t given this modern-day classic a go – and why not? – you’d know that science or technical accuracy isn’t exactly the point of this game. One of the main mechanics available to Mario this time is a form of possession, wherein he throws his hat onto a wide range of creatures, objects and entities in order to leap into their bodies and take control of them. All of them – from the Bullet Bill missile-like beings to a gigantic Tyrannosaurus rex –are all adorned with that famous mustache.
If you tried to do this in your everyday life, you’d just look silly. Worse, you might lose a lot of friends, annoy plenty of strangers, and have to purchase plenty of hats.
Still, it has a volcano. Located in the Luncheon Kingdom, one that’s inhabited by sentient forks that love to cook, it has a rather novel appearance and description that would defy even the most renowned volcanologists.
“Surrounded by strange pink lava,” the brochure description begins, “Mount Volbono is colorful and vibrant, a vision straight from a picture book. It is famous for its cuisine, with dishes simmered over the volcano, and chock-full of the local produce that grows to enormous size thanks to the volcanic climate.”
It goes on. “The highlight of Mount Volbono’s year is the Cooking Carnival, where visitors from all over the world come to sample the famous Stupendous Stew. While cooking on a volcano is of course a grand spectacle, the dish itself has a surprisingly delicate flavor, described most frequently in reviews as a ‘melty deliciousity.’”
Cooking on lava is difficult, but the food here is cooked in the lava itself. If you did this with actual lava, you’d leatherized your food before watching it explode.
The fact that this looks more like soup than lava makes me think that this volcano – clearly a stratovolcano inspired by Mount Vesuvius – is now dormant, and the soup in the crater is being heated by the geothermal system beneath it, transferring heat from the magma chamber to the surrounding water.
(There is actually a type of lava within the volcano – a form of sentient fireball that Mario can possess – but if you think I’m going to wring some science out of this you must be joking.)
So what kind of volcano was Mount Volbono when it was active? It’s pointy shape and high topography implies that it had an explosive past, fuelled by gas-rich viscous magma – something like andesite or even rhyolite.
The rock surrounding it is a mixture of green, aquamarine and magenta; the fact that it’s mostly a sickly green palette suggests it’s made of phonolite, one composed of alkali feldspars and nepheline. It’s fairly uncommon, and as a lava, it’s indeed quite gloopy. When you hit it, it makes a strange clink metallic sound, both in real life and in the Luncheon Kingdom. It’s no coincidence its name derived from the Greek for “sounding stone”.
One of the most common ways for a phonolitic deposit to form is via hotspot volcanism, wherein an upwelling plume of mantle material causes a significant degree of partial melting in the crust above it. This can generate explosive, conventional shield volcanoes (e.g. Mauna Loa), supervolcanoes (e.g. Yellowstone caldera), and stratovolcanoes (e.g. those in the Antarctic Peninsula). It can also create fissures (e.g. Iceland) and those with incredibly strange geochemistries and freakishly fluid eruption styles (e.g. East African Rift.)
Incidentally, the weird soupy lava stuff found throughout the kingdom clearly isn’t some sort of lava, but probably another geothermal spring-type system. It happens to be purple, which suggests it may be hot enough to ignite some potassium compounds. Conveniently, hotspot volcanism often helps liberate plenty of potassium from deep below, so in this sense, the science checks out.
So that’s what I’m saying Mount Volbono is: a weird, inactive phonolitic volcano, currently dormant with a live-and-kicking hydrothermal system, fueled by a hidden hotspot.
Right now, it’s great for cooking soup with a melty deliciosity. In the future, it could engage in a catastrophic, explosive eruption that could destroy the Luncheon Kingdom. Let’s hope it doesn’t – a post-apocalyptic Super Mario game probably isn’t the sequel Nintendo are looking for.