What the history of Kilauea tells us about its future

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HONOLULU (AP) – Kilauea, one of the most active volcanoes on the planet, began to erupt on the Big Island of Hawaii on Wednesday. The eruption is not in an area with houses and is completely contained within Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

Officials said the increased seismic activity and swelling of the soil before the eruption put them on high alert. Cracks then opened in the summit area and sent lava fountains into the sky. Now the area has filled with molten rock, creating a lava lake in the crater of the volcano.

The new lava is an expected evolution of a volcano that is recharging after a huge eruption in 2018 that drained much of its magma.

The 2018 eruption destroyed hundreds of homes and displaced thousands of residents. But experts say this latest rash is not expected to spread to residential areas.

Here’s a look at Kilauea’s latest eruption:

DID SCIENTISTS KNOW IT WOULD HAPPEN?

Scientists at the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory noticed a wave of earthquakes about five miles east of the summit caldera early Wednesday. In the afternoon, another round of earthquakes accompanied by swelling of the ground prompted them to raise the alert level.

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“We picked up a series of earthquakes in the East Rift Zone, so around 5 miles from the summit. And these came in what we would call a little swarm. So one after another, ”said Ken Hon, the USGS scientist in charge of the Hawaii Volcanoes Observatory. “They were alert enough that we became suspicious that the pressure was building within the system.”

The agency raised its alert level “to orange or surveillance, anticipating that there could be an eruption,” Hon. “And 20 minutes later, in fact, there was a rash.”

It is not uncommon for Kilauea to experience earthquakes, which often indicate that magma is moving underground or that parts of volcanoes are moving. Earthquakes and swelling of the ground at the same time can be a precursor to an eruption.

ARE RASHES RARE?

Eruptions on Kilauea are not uncommon. In fact, the volcano erupted almost continuously for decades, but especially not in densely populated residential areas until 2018. eruption. This event destroyed more than 700 homes and displaced thousands of residents.

Kilauea had been active since 1983 and lava flows occasionally covered farms and rural houses. During this time, lava occasionally reached the ocean, causing dramatic interactions with water.

The same area of ​​the volcano that began to erupt on Wednesday also erupted in December and lasted until May.

Hawaiian songs and stories tell the tales of countless eruptions. In Hawaiian tradition, Kilauea is home to the volcano goddess Pele. Kilauea has erupted 34 times since 1952.

HOW MUCH LAVA?

Hon said that hours after Wednesday’s eruption, the floor of the volcano’s summit crater was covered with more than two meters of lava.

In four months in 2018, Kilauea spat out enough lava to fill 320,000 Olympic-size swimming pools, burying an area more than half the size of Manhattan in up to 80 feet (24 meters) of now hardened lava. Molten rock has reduced monuments, streets and neighborhoods to a vast field of blackened rocks and volcanic shards.

The December eruption created a lava lake with enough molten rock to fill 10 Hoover Dams.

After the 2018 eruption, a summit lava lake in the same area stopped erupting and for the first time in recorded history began to fill with water, creating a freshwater lake tinged with volcanic material.

WHAT ARE THE DANGERS ?

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park remained open to the public and authorities expected tens of thousands of visitors to come to see the new eruption.

National park spokeswoman Jessica Ferracane said that while the lava itself is far from places where people can hike or drive, other dangers still exist.

The gases emanating from the volcano can be dangerous if inhaled, and as the plume moves away from people, the wind could change and send it over areas where the public congregates.

Ferracane said people with certain health conditions should avoid gas.

She also noted that there are huge cracks in the ground that people can fall into and visitors should avoid approaching the edge of the caldera. There is a drop of nearly 500 feet (152.4 meters) from the edge of the crater to the ground.

Ferracane added that large crowds should be aware of concerns related to the pandemic.

“This eruption will attract a lot of people to the park, we are already seeing people entering the park, driving after dark tonight,” Ferracane said. “Really need people to remember that we are in the middle of a pandemic and they need to stay safe and protect us as well. “

She said people should stay 6 feet (1.8 meters) apart and wear masks.

WHERE DID THE ERUPTION HAPPEN?

It occurred atop Kilauea Volcano, an uninhabited area of ​​Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island. It’s about 200 miles (322 kilometers) southeast of Honolulu, which is on another island called Oahu.

“All signs point to it remaining in the crater,” said Hon, the USGS scientist. “We don’t see any indication that lava is moving in the lower part of the East Rift Zone where people live. Currently all activity is in the park.

The site is miles from the nearest town. The park has closed this part of the summit to the public since 2008.

The 2018 eruption occurred in the lower eastern rift zone. Cracks have opened up across Leilani Estates and other populated areas of the Puna District on the island. Lava from this eruption meandered to the Pacific Ocean, destroying homes and farms along the way. Lava evaporated a freshwater lake and created a new black sand beach.

WHAT WILL HAPPEN NEXT?

Because much of the magma that had fed Kilauea for years erupted in 2018, the volcano is recharging now and will erupt again in the future.

Hon said these types of small eruptions could occur for years as the volcano fills up.

“The magma continues to enter Kilauea at a fairly constant rate and so it either fills the interior of the volcano… or comes out to the surface,” he said.


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