Volcano observatory warns of further 'explosive eruptions' in Hawaii

Glen Norman
May 13, 2018

Hawaii's Governor David Ige said Friday US President Donald Trump had approved his request for a presidential disaster declaration on the island.

The problem lies at the summit of Kilauea, where a lava lake has been draining quickly at a rate of about 6.5 feet per hour, dropping 970 feet below the surface over the past week.

It's uncertain how big the explosions could be but scientists have said that Hawaii's Kilauea volcano appears to be mimicking behavior last seen in 1924. Then last week, it was Kilauea volcano sending 2,200 degree (1,200 degree Celsius) lava bursting through cracks into people's backyards in the Leilani Estates neighborhood.

Kilauea, however, is a shield volcano, where basaltic lava flows nearly continuously out of a summit crater and other vents, building a flat dome.

The order will make federal funding available to supplement state and local recovery efforts in the regions affected by Kilauea's eruption on May 3.

"What we've already been seeing is that chunks of the surrounding vents are just dropping off into the lava and that's why we're getting these small explosions", said Jessica Johnson, a volcanologist at the University of East Anglia in the United Kingdom.

Kilauea - which has been in a near-constant state of eruption for more than 30 years - isn't a volcano that typically erupts explosively in a cloud of ash and spewing lava, the way most people may imagine. The national park around the volcano announced that it would close indefinitely starting 10 p.m. Thursday because of the risks.

Due to the anticipated steam-induced explosion at the summit of Kīlauea caused by the receding lava lake, and the possibility of a rock and ash fall event, the majority of the park is closed until further notice.

Hawaii County officials say pentane is being moved from Puna Geothermal Venture to an offsite industrial park away from the neighbourhoods where lava fissures have emerged.

Kilauea has destroyed 36 structures - including 26 homes - since May 3, when it began releasing lava from vents about 25 miles (40 kilometers) east of the summit crater.

"We know what people are going through in Leilani Estates".

"One of the things I love about Kilauea is that it's so well-monitored and so well-studied - the more we know, the more we realize we don't know", she said.

"There is the potential for additional outbreaks", Christina Neal, the chief scientist at the U.S. Geological Survey's Hawaiian Volcano Observatory at Kilauea told a news briefing.

In little more than a week, the top of the lava lake has gone from spilling over the crater to nearly 970 feet below the surface as of Thursday morning, Mandeville said.

If you're within several miles, you could be within range of smaller rocks the size of marbles, he said, and 20 miles downwind "you would see fine ash floating from the sky like snow", he added.

The National Park surrounding the danger zone has been shut down over the fear of flying boulders.

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