Living Above The Boiling Earth
Faces - The Magazine of People, Places and Cultures for Kids|November/December 2020
You know immediately that something strange is going on in the city of Rotorua.
By Gail Jarrow

The air smells like rotten eggs. Plumes of steam rise from road drains. Peculiar crusts of yellow, white, and red cover the rocks. Mud puddles bubble. Rocks burn your hands. The ground vibrates as a hissing geyser spews hot water 100 feet into the air.

Welcome to New Zealand’s North Island, where the earth boils beneath your feet. This hot spot is part of the Ring of Fire, a circle of volcanoes and earthquake-prone areas that surrounds the Pacific Ocean.

New Zealand sits above a crack between two enormous sections, called plates, of the earth’s outer shell. As the two plates slowly move together, the edge of one plate is pushed under the other, where it melts into hot molten rock. This molten rock heats rocks and groundwater above it, creating a thermal zone.

Underneath Rotorua lies a huge reservoir of steam and hot water heated by molten rock. The steam escapes in the air through cracks in the rocks. Scalding hot water rises to the surface through openings in the ground, forming hundreds of hot springs and geysers throughout the city.

Minerals in the boiling water coat the ground near the hot springs and geysers with different colors— white from silica, red from iron, yellow from sulfur. The sulfur fumes tarnish silver and corrode electronic equipment such as televisions and computers. The sulfur gives Rotorua its rotten egg smell. No wonder the city’s nickname is “Rotten-rua”!

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