Kilauea’s Lava Flow Presents Real Danger to Observers

Source: West Hawaii Today/Bret Yager September 19, 2016 in Adventure

Photo: Donjiro Ban/Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Recent visitors to the Kamokuna ocean entry have been greeted with the spectacular sight of Kilauea’s lava pouring into the sea to form some of the newest land on Earth. The vigorous interaction between molten lava (2,000 degrees Fahrenheit) and relatively cool seawater (around 80 degrees Fahrenheit) seldom fails to capture the imagination and engage the two particular senses of hearing and sight.

People who venture too close to the perilous beauty of an ocean entry, however, face real and present dangers.

As described in our July 28 Volcano Watch article, the lava delta comprising newly formed land at an ocean entry is extremely unstable. Delta collapses occur without warning, sometimes sending tens of hectares (acres) of the delta plunging into the sea. When this happens, it can trigger explosions that hurl rocks hundreds of yards, both inland and seaward, and send huge waves of scalding water onto the coastline.

Worsening the hazard are the near-surface lava tubes directly inland of the coastal entry. These tubes transport molten lava from the vent to the ocean. The ground surface above them can be structurally weak in spots, which makes it dangerous to walk over them and causes the tubes to leak noxious sulfur dioxide gas.

Based on many years’ experience managing the lands where lava enters the sea, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park staff take thoughtful actions to inform visitors about the dangers of ocean entries and to protect people from explosion and scalding hazards. For the current eruptive situation, the Park, working closely with USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory staff who study eruption hazards, has cordoned off areas that are likely to experience the most dangerous conditions.

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