Saturday, December 4, 2021

Hawaii volcano’s summit lava lake rises to first in hundreds of years

Scientists say the situation is very dangerous for residents near the active volcano

A new lava lake is under the summit of Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano for the first time in hundreds of years, oozing on to the crater floor and spewing black ash, mud and molten rock.

An eight-square-mile (21 sq km) fissure eruption on the eastern flank of Kilauea began Saturday afternoon, marking the latest eruption to affect the Big Island of Hawaii, which sits on the western shore of the Pacific Ocean. No injuries have been reported from the eruption so far.

The volcanic activity has awakened the Big Island’s volcanoes, and an August-to-September “trickling-down” fissure activity now will continue. Scientists say the lava lake in the summit crater of Kilauea is now 10% filled with lava, and lava dripping down the volcano’s west flank has spread into the Kilauea East Rift Zone, spreading out.

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Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, a popular destination for tourists and scientists, will be closed Tuesday.

The volcano first erupted in 1955. In 1968 it emitted steam, lava and ash that left behind a cone-shaped scar in Puna. Several minor eruptions followed from 1979 to 2003.

Researchers do not know when the final plume of lava and steam will rise above the summit crater, which at 10,000ft (3,050m) offers panoramic views of the Puna lava lake.

From the crater, a lava lake is constant — that is, slowly emptying — until it reaches the summit level. The lava lake is at its lowest point in more than a year, and scientists say it’s only been at that level for a few days.

However, just as people consider the levels of lava and steam to be low, it usually rises again. Researchers say they are monitoring the system closely, and it’s difficult to predict how long it will stay at the summit.

The volcano has been erupting continuously since 1983. It last erupted to the west in 1924, when jets of gas and molten rock soared into the sky after explosions at its summit. It then continued eruptions for about a year. Scientists don’t have a precise estimate of how many people died in the 1924 eruptions.

In recent years, small earthquakes have rattled Hawaii, with some striking a half-mile (about two kilometres) below the surface. That creates cracks in the ground, called fissures, that feed the lava that then spews out of the fissures.

New lava fountains appear, but the lava flows have not been as intense or long lasting as they have been in past episodes. The current eruption has lasted about 18 days.

The United States Geological Survey said on Monday there have been 3,500 earthquakes in Puna since 16 August, compared with 2,100 a year. The earthquakes — 5m beneath the surface — might be cause for concern. In the past, earthquakes were followed by lava flows.

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