Lava can again be seen flowing from a volcano on the Big Island of Hawaii. Lava flows today have reached the edge of a slope, which is sending the lava along the ridge to the east and west. Eastern flows bring the lava closer to residences. The United States Geological Service says that if the flows get h3er, they may push over the ridge and into the ocean. The USGS created a composite image that uses a normal photograph along with thermal imaging to show the active flow front in Kalapana.
Beginning last weekend, eruptive activity took place at two locations. One is in what is called the “east rift zone” where lava is flowing through tubes to the surface along highway 137. That advance is near homes. As the lava met the Kalapana access road, the burning asphalt created a plume of thick, black smoke.
Big Island police caution visitors that travel is restricted in that area. Vehicles are allowed to drive into the roadway from the point where Route 130 is covered by lava up to a parking lot with a guard shack. Beyond that point, the road is closed to everyone but residents. The only people allowed to park along the road beyond the warning sign are those who work with the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
A second area of activity is at the summit eruptive vent within Halemaumau Crater. There, a “crusted and circulating lava pond produced red glow visible from the Jaggar Museum overnight.” A description of this vent is provided by the USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory
“Halema`uma`u Overlook vent: has been difficult to describe concisely. The vent is actually a pit, or crater, in the floor of the larger Halema`uma`u Crater in the floor of the larger Kilauea caldera or crater – a crater within a crater within a crater. It is easiest to describe as a pit inset within the floor of a crater within a caldera. The pit is about 140 m (460 ft) in diameter at the Halema`uma`u Crater floor, is about 50 m in diameter at the pit floor, and is about 200 m (660 ft) deep. As of November, 2009, a lava pond surface has been visible in a hole in the floor of this pit.”
Kilauea is always an active volcano, but fresh lava flows do not always extend out to where they are visibile by residents or visitors. Kilauea erupts from three main areas: its summit and two rift zones. The summit is high due to the frequent eruptions but the USGS says more eruptions occur at the long rift zones, which creates ridges that reach out from the summit. Many of the eruptions are gentle, with lava flows of several yards that increase the hight of the summit and build up the rift zones. According to the USGS, sporadic explosions will continue to cause destruction, “We cannot tell how much larger Kilauea will grow or when it will stop, but it will surely continue to erupt through the rest of human history”
(Photo of lava on road by Richard Denton, thermal image courtesy of the U.S. Department of Interior, U.S. Geological Survey.)