Stop 4: Where the Current Lava Is!
Chain of Craters Road once continued all the way along the coastline of Kilauea, but not any more! Since 1989, the road has been cut by the young lava flows that are erupting from the Pu'u O'o cone on the East Rift Zone. This doesn't mean that tourists do not get to see some action, as this stop shows us.
Cliff Mark always keeps an eye open for possible hazards on Kilauea, so read this sign before you too proceed to any of the other photo stops! Volcanoes are really fun places to visit, but you have to remember that they are also dangerous if you do not take care.
Giant steam clouds sometimes form where the hot lava is entering the ocean. Depending on which way the wind is blowing, you can either find some really photogenic plumes, or you might have very acidic steam droplets falling over you and your car. On the day this picture was taken, however, everybody was getting a great view.
You have to be very careful if you try to get this type of picture, and make sure that you ask a Park Ranger if it is safe to get this close as the volcano changes its characteristics almost every day. However, if you're lucky, there's nothing that can beat a picture of a lava flow going into the ocean -- except perhaps a picture of a lava flow going into the ocean at night (see photo No. 5, below).
More caution is needed when you see lava flows burning their way through fresh vegetation. The lava often covers trees and other organic material before it is entirely burnt, and so gases (mainly methane) are released by this buring organic material from beneath the flow for several hours after it has been buried. This can sometimes cause big explosions. You must stay away from this area so that you are not hit by flying pieces of rock.
One of the most delightful ways to spend an evening is to sit at the coast, watch the lava flows slowly fall into the ocean, and have the full Moon rise out of the Pacific Ocean. All you can do is just sit and look, and think that Hawaii's a great place to visit.
From here you can continue on to Stop 5 on the ground, or you can pick another point from the Chain of Craters Virtual Field Trip page.
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Author: Peter Mouginis-Mark
Copyright by P. Mouginis-Mark
Curator: Lori Glaze