The amazing lava flows from Kilauea at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park are highly visible once again per the photo above, courtesy of USGS. A new eruption in the Kīlauea caldera started Wednesday afternoon. Recent eruptions fed lava into a growing lake and belching steam into the sky earlier this year. We find that the best place to keep track of what’s happening with the flow is via the USGS Twitter feed. A post this afternoon read, “#Kilauea #volcano summit #eruption is in full swing. What was once a cooling lava lake is now a new fissure eruption!”
Head to the bottom for a fascinating video of the 2018 eruption and tips on visiting the park now.
September 29, 2021 Eruption at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
Kīlauea volcano erupted again, starting at 3:20 pm when the USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory (HVO) first observed a glow in the Kīlauea summit webcam images. The eruption occurred within the Halemaumau crater in the Kīlauea summit caldera, within Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Imagery indicated fissures at the base of the crater generating lava flows on the surface of the lava lake that previously was active until May.
Kilauea Volcano Alert Elevated to Red.
The USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory elevated Kīlauea’s alert level from a watch to warning status, with an aviation warning code color changed from orange to red. That is due to the latest eruption while potential associated hazards are being evaluated. The activity is currently confined to Halemaumau. Stay tuned for further updates on the fast-changing situation.
The prior watch status meant that the “volcano is exhibiting heightened or escalating unrest with increased potential of eruption, timeframe uncertain or eruption is underway but poses limited hazards.” The new warning status means that “hazardous eruption is imminent, underway, or suspected.” At present, the eruption is entirely confined within the closed area of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
The volcano observatory said that it “will continue to monitor Kīlauea volcano closely and will issue additional messages as warranted by changing activity.”
USGS indicated that “high levels of volcanic gas are the primary hazard of concern, as this hazard can have far-reaching effects downwind. Large amounts of volcanic gas—primarily water vapor (H2O), carbon dioxide (CO2), and sulfur dioxide (SO2)—are continuously released during the eruptions of the Kīlauea Volcano. As SO2 is released from the summit, it will react in the atmosphere to create the visible haze known as vog (volcanic smog) that has been observed downwind of Kīlauea. Vog creates the potential for airborne health hazards to residents and visitors, damages agricultural crops and other plants, and affects livestock.”
Vog has been an ongoing hazard here in Hawaii. The worst situation we remember occurred starting in 2007. See more on Hawaii’s unique vog below.
Other hazards include “Pele’s hair” and Pele’s tears (defined below) and other volcanic fragments. Strong winds can spread those far afield.
Other potential hazards include “crater wall instability, ground cracking, and rockfalls that can be enhanced by earthquakes within the area closed to the public. This underscores the extremely hazardous nature of the Kīlauea caldera rim surrounding the Halemaumau crater, an area that has been closed to the public for nearly 15 years.
Notice for visitors to Volcanoes National Park.
Visitors should monitor the park website. They should also be aware that when winds come from the south, there is now a potential for volcanic ash made up of volcanic glass and rock pieces. These ashfalls represent a minor hazard, but visitors should be aware that dustings of ash at areas around the Kīlauea summit are possible.
Potential for vog returning.
It’s been almost fifteen years since the worst of the vog blanketed the entire state. There is no indication that will happen again, but it is also unknown. The last time, it went on for years and we feared it would remain part of the Hawaii landscape forever. It emanated then too from Mt. Kilauea, which sits 250 miles south of Kauai. It nonetheless traveled that far and with such intensity that it delivered the look and feel of real smog. At the time, the volcano was said to have belched more acid-rich pollution than the dirtiest of US power plants had in the past quarter-century. At times you couldn’t see even a short distance as Kilauea was spewing close to 10 million pounds of sulfur dioxide into the air daily.
Then the vog finally cleared and it has great overall, both on the Big Island and throughout Hawaii. Visibility has been excellent. Air quality went from being a detriment on the Big Island to a quality feature.
Vog’s health effects. For the past two decades, researchers headed by the University of Hawaii medical school have studied the impact of Hawaii’s vog. Interesting to us, vog from every volcano is unique. Kilauea vog is renowned for an almost pure sulfur dioxide output. More long-term research is needed to accurately determine the health risks associated with Kilauea’s vog.
Luckily, prevailing trade winds keep the vog off the south shore of the Big Island and away from the rest of the state most of the time. Unlike seasonal weather patterns, however, wind direction changes are not predictable. Once a pattern is established, it can continue for a week or more.
What are Pele’s hair and Pele’s tears?
“Pele’s hair” is the volcanic glass fibers formed by the molten lava flow. It is often carried by wind (which we expect this week) and can travel miles from the source. These fibers are sharp, brittle, and can cut into the skin.
“Pele’s tears” are pieces of cooled lava drops that are formed as airborne particles of molten eruption fuse into tear-shaped pieces of volcanic glass. These black tears are often seen at the end of Pele’s hair.
The Eruption of 2018.
More than 700 homes were destroyed and thousands of residents had to evacuate in 2018 when Kilauea volcano again erupted, spewing rivers of lava and molten rock over rural districts on the Big Island. Thgat changed the island forever when for a period of four months, large lava flows covered land southeast of the park and destroyed residential areas in the Puna District. There were also tens of thousands of earthquakes, a massive collapse of the Kilauea caldera, and towering plumes of ash.
See the fascinating USGS video of that eruption below.
Visiting Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
If you choose to visit, be sure to refer to their website for current updates. Visitor services are limited but most of the park is open. Private vehicle entrance costs $30.
1. Trails are open but hours have not been updated.
2. Bring a flashlight in case you return in dark conditions.
3. Restrooms are open but limited.
4. The Kilauea visitor center bookstore, lanai, and restrooms are open (exhibits and theater are closed). Rangers and volunteers are available to provide the latest information on the eruption, hiking information, things to do, and the daily schedule of ranger-led activities. You can also call them at 808-985-6011. The Kahuku Unit is open Thursday through Sunday from 9 am to 4 pm.
5. Bring your own food and water. No potable water is available in the park.
6. Large busses more than 26′ long are not allowed in the park.
Prior Hawaii Volcanoes National Park Prior Lava Flow From the Water.
A few years ago, we were able to sail by a prior lava flow from a ship, as you can see in this Beat of Hawaii photo. It was a completely moving experience to witness Pele as we watched, listened, and smelled her power.
Featured image and GIF courtesy of USGS.