Categorized | Featured, Sci-Tech, Volcano

Halemaumau eruption reaches five-year anniversary

Park Ranger Dean Gallagher engages visitors with a “Life on the Edge” talk, held daily at the Jaggar Museum Overlook in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. (Photo courtesy of NPS)

Park Ranger Dean Gallagher engages visitors with a “Life on the Edge” talk, held daily at the Jaggar Museum Overlook in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. (Photo courtesy of NPS)

MEDIA RELEASE

Kilauea Volcano’s summit eruption within Halemaumau Crater marks its fifth year of continuous activity Tuesday, March 19.

To commemorate this anniversary, rangers at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park will offer additional “Life on the Edge” talks at the Jaggar Museum observation deck, which overlooks the fuming, enlarging summit vent.

The 20-minute talks, offered 10 a.m., 11 a.m., noon, 2 p.m., 3:30 p.m. and 5 p.m. Tuesday, March 19, encompass the dramatic geological and mythological history of Halemaumau Crater.

Kilauea’s summit vent opened at 2:58 a.m. March 19, 2008, when an explosive eruption created a gaping hole about 115 feet wide on the south wall of Halemaumau Crater.

Nighttime glow from this hole suggested the presence of molten lava, but it wasn’t until six months later that a lake of roiling lava deep within the vent was definitively observed by U.S. Geological Survey Hawaiian Volcano Observatory (HVO) scientists.

With the opening of the Halemaumau vent, already-high summit sulfur dioxide (SO2) gas emission rates increased even more, resulting in increased vog (volcanic air pollution) downwind.

Although the summit SO2 emissions have declined since 2008, they are still averaging 800-1200 tonnes/day, creating hazardous conditions along closed sections of the park’s Crater Rim Drive and poor air quality farther downwind of the vent.

Since 2008, rock collapses within the vent have enlarged its opening on the floor of Halemaumau Crater. The vent is now about 520 feet by 700 feet (the area of about 21 Olympic-sized pools), and, according to HVO Scientist-in-Charge Jim Kauahikaua, is likely to continue growing through further collapses of overhung sections of the vent rim.

Kauahikaua describes the lava within the vent as a continuously circulating gas-rich “foam” that rises and falls depending on changes in Kīlauea’s subsurface magma pressure. The lava lake reached its highest level to date on Oct. 26, 2012, when the lava surface rose to within 72 feet of the vent rim.

While the actual lava lake is not visible from safe viewing areas, its glow — the diffusion of incandescent lava light within the gas plume rising from the vent — is spectacular and easily observed from Hawaii Volcanoes National Park overlooks on clear nights. When the lava lake level is especially high, park visitors can sometimes hear sharp sounds as rocks in the vent wall expand and crack due to the increased heat.

“The amazing beauty of this eruption, and the ease of viewing opportunities within Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, provides both visitors and residents with unforgettable experiences,” Park Superintendent Cindy Orlando said. “Where else in the world can you park your car, and walk just a few feet to behold the spectacle of one of the world’s most active volcanoes?”

Jaggar Museum and the overlook are wheelchair- and stroller-accessible. Other vantage points for viewing Halemaumau within the park include Kilauea Overlook, Kilauea Iki Overlook, and Keanakakoi Overlook.

The summit eruption, Kilauea’s second longest since the early 1900s, can also be experienced through photos, videos, and webcam images at: hvo.wr.usgs.gov

Halemaumau Crater - April 2008  (Photo courtesy of USGS)

Halemaumau Crater – April 2008 (Photo courtesy of USGS)

Halemaumau Crater - March 2013. Kilauea Volcano’s summit vent “then and now.” In April 2008, a month after it opened, the vent within Halemaumau Crater was about 115 feet in diameter. As of March 2013, it is more than 500 feet across. (Photos courtesy of USGS)

Halemaumau Crater – March 2013. Kilauea Volcano’s summit vent “then and now.” In April 2008, a month after it opened, the vent within Halemaumau Crater was about 115 feet in diameter. As of March 2013, it is more than 500 feet across. (Photos courtesy of USGS)

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