Ex­perts: Vol­cano ex­plo­sions could go for weeks

The Maui News - - NEWS - By SETH BORENSTEIN The As­so­ci­ated Press

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Kablooey!

Hawaii’s Ki­lauea vol­cano ex­ploded a tall, steely gray col­umn of ash into the sky Thurs­day, just as sci­en­tists warned eight days ago. Ex­perts say the ex­plo­sive bal­lis­tic dis­plays could con­tinue for weeks, and they don’t know when it’s go­ing to stop.

“There’s so many vari­ables. It’s com­pli­cated, like a bad Face­book re­la­tion­ship sta­tus,” said vol­ca­nol­o­gist Ja­nine Kripp­ner of Con­cord Univer­sity in West Vir­ginia. “Some­thing will even­tu­ally change like it has over and over and over again.”

In 1924, when sim­i­lar con­di­tions oc­curred at Ki­lauea on the Big Is­land, there were more than 50 dis­tinct ex­plo­sions like the one Thurs­day over more than two weeks, she said.

If ex­plo­sions be­come more en­er­getic, there could be boul­ders that fall up to 1 mile away or pea-sized frag­ments as far as

4 miles away, U.S. Geological Sur­vey sci­en­tist Steve Brant­ley said.

Ki­lauea, one of the world’s most ac­tive vol­ca­noes, has been erupt­ing con­tin­u­ously since 1983.

While sci­en­tists un­der­stand the me­chan­ics about what’s caus­ing the lat­est out­bursts, they have no idea why af­ter 35 years of one type of sim­mer­ing, Ki­lauea vol­cano is now go­ing nuts in two dif­fer­ent ways: lava flowed out of cracks east of the sum­mit and a pow­er­ful steam-driven erup­tion sent ash 30,000 feet into

the sky.

“It would be any­body’s guess why it changed be­hav­ior in the last few weeks as it dra­mat­i­cally did,” said vol­ca­nol­o­gist Erik Klemetti of Deni­son Univer­sity in Ohio.

Be­fore Thurs­day’s erup­tion, the lava lake at the vol­cano’s sum­mit crater dropped steadily as lava oozed out from cracks else­where on the vol­cano.

As the lava level shrank, “there is noth­ing hold­ing those walls up,” Kripp­ner said. “Now, rock falls can oc­cur.”

Those rocks then clog the base of the vol­cano. Wa­ter that

is flash-heated into steam builds up below and even­tu­ally — kablooey!

“We’re be­gin­ning to see the cycle of clog­ging and pres­sure build­ing and then the blast,” Klemetti said. “They are prob­a­bly be­ing blasted out at hundreds of miles per hour.”

Res­i­dents on the east side of the is­land “should be ready for this un­set­tling be­hav­ior for the near fu­ture and see how it goes,” he said.

Thurs­day’s blast may be near up­per lim­its of this type of steam ex­plo­sion, Klemetti said.

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