Jul 23 2008

Volcano-Packed Day

Published by at 1:10 am under Hawaii,The Big Island

Everyone says you roll the dice when you go to Hawaii to see volcanic activity. Sometimes there’s no action going on, and other times, people get lucky.

We were lucky. Kilauea and its major vent, Pu’u O’o, have been quite active lately. We started our volcano-packed day with a helicopter ride over the vent and the place where lava is currently flowing into the ocean. Here are some pics Dave took from the helicopter:


Above, our view of the Pu’u O’o crater vent from the helicopter ride.


Above, more vents in a line in the Kilauea lava field. The large plume in the background is where a lava tube makes contact with the ocean.

Next, we spent some time cruising around Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Half of Crater Rim Drive (the road that encircles Kilauea Volcano’s caldera) was closed because of toxic sulphur dioxide gas spewing out of the crater in the center of the caldera (sweet!). Despite this closure, park officials and Rangers had plenty of activities going on, and the Rangers were very eager to share information about how to get to the area where the lava is flowing into the ocean, even though it is outside the park itself.

We drove to that point in the afternoon. If we didn’t get info beforehand, I’m not sure we would have found it. We had to pass several signs that said, “KEEP OUT” or “ENTER AT YOUR OWN RISK” as well as cross three stretches of road where older lava flows had wiped out the road (it was re-paved). We weren’t exactly sure what to expect except 1) there would be an area to park our car, 2) there would be other people there, 3) we had to bring flashlights if we wanted to stay after dark, 4) we had to be in by 8:00 pm and 5) we had to be out by 10:00 pm.

When we arrived, there were county workers helping to park cars, some enterprising locals selling water, coffee, flashlights and artwork, there was an EMT team waiting in case anyone got hurt, and there was a 3/4 mile path across a lava field marked with reflective posts guiding the way to the viewing area.

Being at the viewing area was a little like going to see fireworks on the Fourth of July. There were about 100 – 200 people there, tourists and locals alike, with cameras and their loved ones. And like a great fireworks show, it did not disappoint. In fact, it was better, because the producer of the show was Mother Nature (or Madame Pele, the Hawaiian goddess of the volcano).

While the sun was out, we saw rocks being thrown into the air against a giant steam plume. But as the sun set, the “rocks” began to glow red – they were actually lava bombs. What an incredible sight! Here are a couple pics:


Above, the viewing area with the crowd waiting for the sun to set.


Above, the plume created by the lava flow hitting the ocean.


Above, there were frequent mini-twisters that would drop from the plume down to the ocean surface. This picture shows two at once.


Above, once it became dark, the same lava bombs we saw earlier appeared redder and redder.


Above, a close-up of a lava bomb explosion.


Above, a long exposure shows the trails of the lava bombs.


Above, that purple splotch above the lava bomb explosion is a lightning flash which occurred frequently within the plume. You’ll see one of these near the end of the video if you watch closely.

We also got some video – it’s about 2 minutes long and goes from day time to night. To see the video in QuickTime format, click here for a small version (faster download) and click here for a larger version (bigger picture). Likewise for Windows Media format: click here for a small version and click here for a larger version. Enjoy!

– Meredith

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