Tag Archives: Kilauea

Halema’uma’u Crater

This week’s Sunday Stills challenge theme is ‘Danger.’ (See more offerings here.) It seemed a suitable opportunity to post some photos reviewing on Kilauea Volcano’s last eruption, which began in May of last year.

The bottom photo, taken from the Jaggar Museum overlook, shows the scene on the morning of April 25, 2018. Lava in the active vent in Halema’uma’u Crater, at Kilauea’s summit, was just below the crater floor and had been overflowing into the crater in previous days. The overflow is the large dark area to the right of the glowing lava.

By early May, the lava level in the vent had dropped around 1,000 feet. This drop occurred at the same time that lava disappeared from Pu’u O’o vent. Not long afterwards, cracks opened in the ground at Leilani Estates, a housing subdivision in the southeastern part of the island. By the end of May, 24 fissures had opened in the area. The most prolific lava flow emanated from Fissure 8, which flowed to the ocean and created more than 800 acres of new land. However, more than 700 homes were destroyed by this eruption.

Meanwhile, back at the summit, the absence of lava in the vent in Halema’uma’u Crater resulted in a series of collapses of the crater floor. Each collapse triggered earthquakes and shot clouds of ash and toxic gas thousands of feet into the air.

The top photo shows Halema’uma’u Crater as it looks today. The crater is twice the size it was the year before and the floor, which was mostly flat, is now a huge cascading pit. In the upper left of the photo, the Jaggar Museum, where I stood to take the bottom photo, can just be seen. It was heavily damaged by the earthquakes, as were the parking lot and access road. It’s also much closer to the crater edge than it was. (Technically the crater edge is closer to it, since the museum hasn’t moved!)

The museum, along with the rest of the park, closed in May 2018, because of the eruption. While much of the rest of the park reopened in September, Jaggar Museum did not. There’s a good possibility it never will and that its fate will be the same as the portion of Crater Rim Drive in the photo to the right. A significant length of that road, which used to encircle the whole summit caldera, was destroyed, including the section in the photo which slid, intact, into the crater.

Things have settled down since September 2018 and there has been no volcanic activity anywhere on the island since then. But Kilauea remains an active volcano and will undoubtedly erupt again. It’s just that no one knows exactly when or where that will happen.

Road across the flow

Road across the flow

I’ve posted about my January visit to Pohoiki here, here, and here. The reason I was able to make that visit is because the county finally put a temporary road over one of the flows that cut off that part of the island.

One of the features of lava flows is that they don’t uniformly erase everything in their path. Sometimes they flow around areas. Sometimes they stop and a new flow emerges to one side. Sometimes a flow blocks one side of an area and a different flow blocks the other side.

The 2018 Kilauea eruption was no different in this regard. Some houses escaped destruction, but became inaccessible by road. Pohoiki was one of those places, until the new road was completed.

Things move at a leisurely pace in Hawaii and one might think the delay in building the road was due to this, but in this case, the county had good reason to wait. The simple reason is that they had to wait for the lava to cool down. It took several months for the lava to cool enough to make it practical to build a road over the flow. Even then it would not have been safe to cut through the flow and build the road at its former level.

How quickly the lava cools depends on many things including hot hot it was to begin with and how deep the flow is. It can take many months before the lava at the heart of a flow cools down enough to solidify and not present a danger.

For those interested in what happened during that 2018 eruption, the PBS show, NOVA, broadcast an episode titled ‘Kīlauea: Hawaiʻi on Fire.’ It’s about 50 minutes long and has a bit of a dramatic ‘will anyone survive’ tone in places, but I found it very informative. It might be available at https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/, but if not you can see it here.

Pohoiki fires

Pohoiki bench and lava

Yesterday I posted here about revisiting Pohoiki, also known as Isaac Hale Beach Park. Today, in response to this week’s Sunday Stills challenge on the theme of ‘Fire,’ (more responses here) I’m posting a couple more photos from that visit. Being perverse, I’ve chosen photos with no fire in them.

The top photo shows where the flow from the 2018 Kilauea eruption came to a halt, in the park’s picnic area. It has swallowed up one of the picnic tables, as well as some surrounding trees. What I find interesting about this is that neither the table, nor the trees, caught fire. I think this is because, by this time, the supply of lava had already stopped reaching the extremities of the flow and, consequently, those areas had already cooled considerably to below the temperature needed to cause combustion.

The bottom photo has a simpler, fire-related appeal. It could easily be captioned, ‘the barbecue pit meets the mother of all barbecues.’

Pohoiki barbecue pit and lava

Pohoiki revisited

Pohoiki boatramp

Pohoiki breakwater markerIt’s been a while since I was last at Pohoiki, also known as Isaac Hale Beach Park. One reason for this is that it’s about as far away from where I live as is possible on the island. But back in July 2016, I went down there at an ungodly hour to board a boat and go see lava flowing into the ocean. I wrote about that trip here and here. At the park were restrooms, picnic tables, and a boat launch ramp protected by a small breakwater.

Last year, Pohoiki was in the news because it was where the flow from the 2018 Kilauea eruption finally ground to a halt, about 100 yards short of the boat ramp. A few days ago, I decided to revisit the park and see the changes that had taken place.

Driving into the park, the cooled lava flow could be seen, stretching down the side of the grassy picnic area (bottom photo). But what I really wanted to see was the boat ramp and the black sand beach at the bottom of the park. They did not disappoint.

The boat ramp, previously used to launch quite large boats, including the lava tour catamaran of 2016, now leads to a small lagoon (top photo). (Note the signs on the left of the photo.) This lagoon is perfect for swimming or sailing model boats, but as a boat launch ramp it has one big drawback. There’s now a long, deep, curve of black sand separating the ramp from the ocean (photo below). This beach began forming during the eruption, but I was surprised by how substantial it was. It’s rocky in places and the sand is quite coarse, but it is unquestionably a beach and it looks like it’s here to stay.

An indication of the beach’s substance can be seen in the photo at right. The red triangle on a pole marked the end of the breakwater. Now it’s deep in sand. The breakwater is still there, but almost entirely buried.

The beach was formed by lava pouring into the ocean. Some of it solidified into large chunks, but a lot was quickly broken into smaller pieces and fine sand. (In the postings about my 2016 trip, one of the photos shows a black sand beach forming at the base of the flow.) A good deal of this sand was carried a short way down the coast to form this new beach.

I don’t have a good photo of the park before these changes, but the local newspaper has an aerial view here that shows the features I’ve mentioned. In that photo, the boat ramp, breakwater, and rocky shore can be seen at the bottom. Top left is the restrooms building that is also top left in the bottom photo here. The paths and picnic tables can also be seen.

I’d expect that on my next visit, all these new features that I’ve mentioned will still be there, but there is one caveat. If there’s a new eruption in this area, then everything could change. It’s one of the facts of life of living near an active volcano.

Posted in response to this week’s Friendly Friday challenge on the theme of ‘Revisited.’ See more responses here. Tomorrow, I’ll post a few more photos in response to the Sunday Stills photo challenge.

Pohoiki beach

Pohoiki picnic area

Pu’u O’o vent

Pu'u O'o vent

Pu'u O'o vent and steamPu'u O'o vent from aboveThis week’s Sunday Stills challenge theme is ‘Time.’ (See more responses here.) I had a couple of thoughts about this. The first is that the state of Hawaii is a kind of geologic timepiece. The Hawaiian islands exist because a magma source known as the Hawaii hotspot generates volcanic activity. This creates underwater seamounts that eventually break the surface to form new islands. Such a process is currently taking place with Lōʻihi Seamount, off the southeast coast of the Big Island. It’s about 3,000 feet below the surface but, if it continues its present activity, it will rise above sea level in another 10,000 to 100,000 years.

But if Hawaii is on a volcanic hotspot, why doesn’t it produce one volcano that just gets bigger and bigger? Well, the tectonic plate on which Hawaii sits is in constant motion to the northwest. So the volcanic activity generates an island, but as the plate moves, that island edges away from its creative source and the volcanic activity ceases. What happens then is that the winds and waves begin a long process of erosion until that island is reduced to an atoll and finally disappears below the ocean’s surface. We’re not talking months here. We’re talking millions of years for this process to take place.

Look at a map and you’ll see this chain of Hawaiian Islands stretching away to the northwest, the islands or atolls becoming progressively smaller until they disappear and return to being below-surface seamounts. And while I say this is a slow process, it can also be speedy. In October of this year, Hurricane Walaka ripped through the French Frigate Shoals, part of the northwest Hawaiian chain. Its passage completely removed the second largest island in the group, East Island, from the map. Researchers had been working there before the hurricane struck. After its passage, it was gone (more info here).

So Hawaii is an example of the geologic passage of time. But there’s another aspect of our view of time that is illustrated here. The photos are of Kilauea’s Pu’u O’o vent. Kilauea is one of the planet’s most active volcanoes and the Pu’u O’o vent had been more-or-less continuously active since 1983. Then, in May of this year, the activity in this vent, and in the summit vent at Halema’uma’u Crater, ceased. The magma drained from these places and traveled down the east rift zone of the volcano before emerging in a residential subdivision, Leilani Estates, in the southeast corner of the island. This new eruption produced a lava flow that reached the ocean, destroying more than 700 structures en route, but adding hundreds of acres to the Big Island coastline.

What’s the time aspect of this? Well, it’s part of the geologic time process noted above. But there’s another way of looking at it. Kilauea has been erupting so long and so regularly that it’s been a little bit taken for granted. “Oh, lava’s flowing into the ocean? You know, I’m really busy right now. I’ll catch it later.” “The summit vent is spilling onto Halema’uma’u Crater’s floor? I’ll check that out next time I’m down that way.”

I consider myself fortunate that I got to see the firehose of lava entering the sea after a cliff collapse (here). Next day, following another cliff collapse, it was no longer visible. And in April of this year I went down to see the summit lava lake (here) bubbling up to the crater floor and visible from Jagger Museum. Two weeks later, the level had dropped a thousand feet. It continued to fall.

I might never see these things again in my lifetime, but at the time, there seemed to be lots of time to visit. But even events happening in a long, geologic timeframe might occur in the space of a week, a day, even an hour. It’s a reminder to me that each moment is something fleeting, perhaps something special, something to pay attention to.

These photos are of Pu’u O’o vent in late September of this year. No lava is visible in the vent, but it’s still hot enough that rainfall generates steam, which is what’s visible here. It was quite dramatic to pass over this vent, which for 35 years has pumped lava out onto the surrounding landscape.

Pu'u O'o vent steam

Now you see it …

Hualalai from water

Hualalai from the water with vogOver the last few weeks, several people have asked me how I’ve been affected by Kilauea Volcano’s latest eruption in a subdivision in Puna. I’ve been happy to respond that, where I live, I’ve hardly been affected at all.

I live near the northern tip of the Big Island and the current eruption is taking place in the southeast corner of the island. This eruption is also not like the recent one in Guatemala, with a deadly explosive element. Instead, it has settled into a steady, if prolific stream of molten lava, burning buildings in its path on the way to the coast. This behavior makes the direct impact of the eruption a more localized affair. If a person lived in the vicinity of the lava flow path, they’ve probably been forced to leave their home with no indication of when they might be able to return. But for the rest of the island, the lava itself poses no threat. What does affect, not only this island, but also others in the Hawaiian chain, is vog.

Vog, a blend of the words ‘volcanic,’ ‘smog,’ and ‘fog,’ is the result of gases from an eruption reacting with moisture and sunlight. It varies in intensity depending on the output of the volcano and it varies in who it affects depending on the wind.

Vog has been around a while, since the volcano has been erupting, pretty much continuously, since 1983. That 1983 eruption was at the Pu’u O’o vent. Then, in 2008, a new vent opened in Halemaʻumaʻu Crater, within the summit caldera. With two active vents, the vog got noticeably worse. This year’s new eruption has added to the output and also thrown in some ash deposits on areas within range.

The northeast trades are the dominant winds here and when they blow, the vog is blown along the south coast of the Big Island and then up along the west coast. Typically it will reach Kailua Kona, about halfway up, or a little farther north.

Up here on the northern tip the trades blow strong, too strong for many people who find it too windy. But the advantage of those winds is that they keep the vog at bay. Ironically, this past winter, the winds were more variable and we had more vog up here than usual. But since this current vent opened, the trades have been fairly consistent and have kept this part of the island mostly vog free.

Yesterday was an exception. The winds weakened and the vog crept north, which is what the photos are about. The top one, I’ve run before. It shows Hualalai Volcano seen from the water off the north Kohala coast. The bottom photo was taken yesterday from roughly the same area (though without zooming in). Hualalai is gone! That headland is about 400 yards away and I’d estimate that visibility was around 2 miles. I couldn’t even see the horizon. The water just faded away into the vog.

Even when it’s voggy, it doesn’t bother me too much, but some people are more affected. The air becomes acrid and sore throats and noses are common. Luckily, the winds picked up during the day and conditions improved, so we’ll see what happens.