What's New at the Volcano!

Live Volcanoes:

Some of the Virtually Hawaii Team also work on the measurement of active volcanoes as part of their research efforts. For instance, they often go to Kilauea volcano to collect temperature data of the active lava flows, to compare radar images with what landforms that we find in the field, or study lava flows as analogs to what we can see on the other planets. We thought that you would enjoy seeing some of the spectacular views of the Kilauea eruptions that we have been lucky enough to see over the last few years! Come back and visit this page again soon -- we plan to add other images of the eruptions as the lava flows change over the next few months.

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One of the features at Kilauea that provides endless fascination is watching lava flows as they move across the ground. This is just a small (<3 meter wide) flow, but it has many of the features of bigger flows. See how the surface of the central part of the flow is starting to turn dark as it cools, while the edges remain much hotter because they are continually being disrupted by the motion of the lava.

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Much of the lava that is erupted from Kilauea is currently traveling to the coast through a series of lava tubes. These can be quite large and can come very close to the surface. Where part of the roof of the tube collapses, one gets a great view of the red hot lava making its way to the sea!

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Many of Kilauea's lava flows travel through forests or cross other types of vegetation on their way to the coast. Where this occurs, there are frequent small brush fires. Watch out if you see these, because the hot lava traps methane gas underground, and sometimes there are quite large explosions as the gas pressure is released.

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Even from quite a distance away, you can tell that there is lava entering the ocean because giant steam plumes are often formed as the water and hot lava meet. See also the next picture for a closer view.

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This is about as close as you want to get when there are big steam plumes generated at the coast. Sometimes there are even small explosions as water (from crashing waves) gets trapped in active lava tubes, expands rapidly due to the heat, and sends molten lava flying over the nearby area. Be careful!

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When there are no waves, and when the coastline is known to be stable, one can sometimes get great nighttime views as the lava enters the ocean. This is a time-lapse photo (about 5 seconds exposure) that shows a very typical burst of lava as a tube reaches the ocean.

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For scientists who want to work on Kilauea, it is possible to get special permits from the Park Service that enable one to get really close to active lava in order to collect new data on the flows. Here we see Scott Rowland standing in front of an active pahoehoe flow -- see the red areas? These parts of the flow are more than 1,130 degrees centigrade!

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On April 28th, 1995, there were many many active lava flows close to the coast. Here we see just a small portion of the flow field as we look inland.

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Laszlo Keszthelyi is showing us how to use a thermo-couple to measure lava flow temperatures. This thermo-couple is made of a special wire that can be forced into the molten lava so that one can get a measurement of the interior temperature.

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In the previous picture, we saw Laszlo trying to use a thermo-couple to measure the temperature of a lava flow. Luke Flynn, shown here, has a much better "high-tech" device that can also measure lava flow temperatures by means of measuring the amount of light given off the flow at different wavelengths. Luke is holding the instrument, which is called a "spectrometer". This instrument works at wavelengths between 0.4 to 2.5 microns, and collects data at many hundreds of wavelengths over this range.

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Even volcanologists who know a lot about Kilauea have to be careful in some places. At the coast is one such area. Here we can see that lava flows have built up a "delta" right at the coast. This lava delta is very unstable because it is constructed over beach sand. As a result, very large pieces, some the size of a football field, can fall unexpectedly into the ocean. Stay away from these areas (as the geologists is doing here), even if the view is really good.

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As the Sun goes down, there are great opportunities to see glowing lava. Here we see a small flow falling over an old sea cliff. Notice all of the tourists standing close-by on the other side of the active flows.

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Here's another view of the active lava flows that we saw at the coast. Now, doesn't this make you want to visit Hawaii's volcanoes?

Author: Lori Glaze

Copyright by P. Mouginis-Mark

Curator: Lori Glaze