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How much time does it take for life to first appear on a fresh lava flow, if the lava flow is near the equator? Or if you see grass and or ferns starting to grow on a lava flow; what can you say about the age of the lava flow?
Question Date: 2016-08-26
Answer 1:

Soils take time to develop after a volcanic eruption and often the first life to form is lichen because it can live without soil. Lichen helps to break down the rocks releasing minerals, while wind may begin to bring in dust, sand, and other nutrients forming the beginnings of soil. This soil spawns plant life to form. Ultimately, the revegetation of lava flows depends on 2 main factors: rainfall and the type of lava. The amount of rainfall may increase the speed at which revegetation occurs and therefore being close to the equator would in fact enhance this process since equatorial regions experience such high amounts of rainfall.

The type of lava is important because different types of lava contain different types of minerals that are important for life to form. According to the Hawaiian national park service, ferns can begin to grow as early as 1 year after a lava flow, thus, if you see vegetation covering a lava flow, it could be as young as a year old.

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