Hawaii vol­cano erupts again

Orlando Sentinel - - FRONT PAGE - By Sarah Ka­plan The Wash­ing­ton Post

Sul­fur diox­ide plumes, above, rise from fis­sures along the rift of Hawaii’s Ki­lauea vol­cano on the Big Is­land. An­other erup­tion early Thurs­day sent a plume of ash about 30,000 feet into the predawn sky. Of­fi­cials said the lat­est erup­tion did not threaten peo­ple in the vicin­ity. At right, Fis­sure 17’s flames and smoke are shown in an aerial im­age taken Thurs­day morn­ing in Pahoa. Sci­en­tists warned for days about a ma­jor erup­tion.

Hawaii’s Ki­lauea vol­cano erupted ex­plo­sively early Thurs­day, toss­ing boul­ders hun­dreds of feet and send­ing a plume of ash about 30,000 feet into the predawn sky.

A we­b­cam at the Hawaii Vol­cano Ob­ser­va­tory caught the af­ter­math of the short-lived erup­tion on film: an on­slaught of wet and dusty ash raining down on a dark­ened land­scape. From the sum­mit of Mauna Loa vol­cano, 20 miles away, cam­eras pho­tographed an anvil-shaped plume bil­low­ing on the hori­zon.

U.S. Ge­o­log­i­cal Sur­vey sci­en­tist Michelle Coombs said the ac­tiv­ity at the vent could be­come more ex­plo­sive again. “It’s a real dy­namic sit­u­a­tion up there,” she said of the sum­mit.

Sci­en­tists had warned for days about a ma­jor erup­tion as the lava lake that once filled the crater at Ki­lauea’s sum­mit be­gan drain­ing back into the ground. Their con­cern was that the sink­ing molten rock would cre­ate steam as it in­ter­acted with the wa­ter ta­ble and that the steam would then jet up­ward, hurl­ing rocks and ash into the sky in a phe­nom­e­non known as a phreatic erup­tion.

“This is the sort of ex­plo­sive ac­tiv­ity that was an­tic­i­pated,” Mike Poland, a USGS geo­physi­cist who was based at Ki­lauea from 2005 to 2015, said Thurs­day. “It’s not go­ing to be the only one.”

Though dra­matic, Thurs­day’s early erup­tion did not pose an im­me­di­ate threat to any peo­ple in the vicin­ity, Poland said. Ob­ser­va­tory staff had left their Ki­lauea lo­ca­tion on Wed­nes­day, for a fa­cil­ity at the Univer­sity of Hawaii in Hilo, af­ter con­clud­ing that wind could carry ash to­ward the sta­tion.

Ac­cord­ing to Poland, the great­est im­pact was to an area within a few hun­dred yards of the sum­mit’s erup­tive vent. That’s where the ex­plo­sion would have sent hot gas and 1,000-pound rocks soar­ing.

But wind is car­ry­ing the plume from the erup­tion north­east, po­ten­tially raining ash into nearby com­mu­ni­ties, the Hawaii Vol­cano Ob­ser­va­tory warned. De­pend­ing on weather con­di­tions, USGS said, ash might fall as far as Hilo, 30 miles to the north­east.

The ob­ser­va­tory also warned that vog — a nox­ious smog formed when sul­fur diox­ide from erup­tive vents in­ter­acts with wa­ter va­por and oxy­gen in the air — has been re­ported in the com­mu­nity of Pa­hala, south­west of the vol­cano.

Though dis­rup­tive and painful for peo­ple liv­ing near Ki­lauea, es­pe­cially those who have al­ready lost their homes, the erup­tion will not sig­nif­i­cantly af­fect life on the rest of the Big Is­land, Poland said. “And it is not likely to turn into some cat­a­strophic event,” he added.

Ki­lauea, a mas­sive shield vol­cano on Hawaii’s Big Is­land, is the site of the world’s long­est on­go­ing erup­tion, ooz­ing lava since 1983. But in re­cent weeks the vol­cano has be­come par­tic­u­larly rest­less. Fis­sures opened in com­mu­ni­ties along the vol­cano’s east­ern slopes, prompt­ing evac­u­a­tions and en­gulf­ing dozens of homes in lava.

That ac­tiv­ity along the East Rift Zone caused a dra­matic de­pres­sur­iza­tion of the magma col­umn be­low Ki­lauea’s sum­mit, slowly drain­ing the lava lake in the sum­mit crater.

As the molten rock dropped be­low the level of the wa­ter ta­ble, it’s likely that wa­ter in the sur­round­ing rock be­gan pour­ing into the va­cated cham­ber, much the way wa­ter rushes to fill a re­cently dug well, said Char­lotte Rowe, a geo­physi­cist at Los Alamos Na­tional Lab­o­ra­tory. The wa­ter would then flash into steam, “and steam as we know is a very pow­er­ful source of en­ergy, a very pow­er­ful pro­pel­lant,” Rowe said.

U.S. GE­O­LOG­I­CAL SUR­VEY VIA GETTY IMAGES (TOP); USGS VIA AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS (BOT­TOM)

U.S. GE­O­LOG­I­CAL SUR­VEY

In a Thurs­day im­age, a ge­ol­o­gist mon­i­tors the dam­age in Pahoa, Hawaii. Cracks caused by the un­der­ly­ing in­tru­sion of magma ex­panded sig­nif­i­cantly in the past 24 hours.

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