Kilauea, a volcano on the southeast portion of Big Island of Hawaii, has been experiencing seismic activity and endangering residents and their property for more than a week. TNB originally covered the story on May 5.
Since that time, the damage and threat has worsened. The original six fissures now number at more than twenty, and the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park closed (National Park Service). At least twenty-six homes have been destroyed, with some of the fissures restricting access to residential districts.
A significant eruption has been feared for days, as the lava flow moved toward the water table. The resultant explosion when the pair meet was the great concern. From Popular Science:
If that happens, the water could interact with the lava, creating a ton of steam.
That steam alone is not hazardous, especially if the steam is forming near the surface of the lava. But that’s not the only factor at play here. The vent hosting the lava lake is fairly unstable, and it’s pretty common for rocks to fall into the lava, sending up plumes of volcanic ash (tiny rock particles). If enough rocks fall through, they could plug up the vent where the lava lake sits, barricading it below ground.
If that blockade gets erected while the lava is below the water table, all that steam could build up underground, increasing the pressure until suddenly….boom.
On Tuesday, after the volcano released a large ash plume into the air, the U.S. Geological Survey issued a red alert for the island and the airspace around Kilauea. The alert indicates that a major eruption is expected and imminent.
On Wednesday, the first indications of rock eruptions were found a few hundred yards from the main crater by Survey agents. (Reuters)
Now the eruption has happened, as expected. A six mile high plume of ash was generated, and locals are assessing the continuing situation. Several schools have been closed for the day due to toxins in the air.
Seismic data for Big Island: