What's New at Kilauea Volcano?!

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Activity at the coast -- March 1999

The Virtually Hawaii Team still travel to Kilauea Volcano, either to conduct research on the active lava flows or to make a compariosn between the GOES satellite images and what is happening on the ground. In mid-March, we were lucky to be at the ocean entry points when there were some impressive explosive eruptions. These eruptions were caused by sea water entering the lava tubes, and the water turning rapidly to steam. With no where to expand, the steam caused the lava tube to explode.

The set of images that we show here record almost an entire "life cycle" of this type of activity. We stayed for about 3 hours, and saw some nice explosions as well as many active lava flows. Enjoy these views!

Stage 1 of the new activity began with small fragments of the lava being thrown a few meters into the air. Notice that most of these blocks are dark, showing that they are quite cool.

A series of much more violent explosions, throwing material perhaps 20 meters into the air, marked the start of Stage 2. At this time, much larger chunks of the lava tube roof were being thrown into the air, and as we can see here there was more structure to this material. Compared to the ejecta of Stage 1, you can see that much of the ejecta was glowing red hot.

Almost as quickly as it begain, the explosive episode came to end. In no more than 30 minutes, the explosive eruptions had built a small littoral cone about 3 meters high (image at left). Notice the big steam plume coming out of the right side of the cone. Presumably, there was still a lot of hot rock in contact with the ocean water!

We could now get a better view of this activity, since there were no blobs of lava flying through the air. The right image shows that even though there no explosions, like everybody who visits the ocean entry we stayed on the old sea cliff. NEVER go down onto the lava bench (at right in the right image), since this is highly unstable and is very dangerous!

The end of the explosive eruptions was probably caused by the lava tube becoming sealed from the ocean, since numerous pahoehoe lava flows then started to break out on the bench (Stage 3). These flows firsted formed right on the up-slope flank of the littoral cone, but then also started to form closer to the cliff. We infer that this was due to the lava tube becoming full so that new lava from further up-slope could not enter the ocean.

However, the surface flows soon reached the ocean again, and we could see that the the cycle was going to start again at Stage 1. However, it was time for us to return to our car and head back to our favorite bed and breakfast house. And as luck would have it, the rainbow at the end of our hike back made for an excellent end to a fascinating day.

Author: Pete Mouginis-Mark

Copyright by P. Mouginis-Mark

Curator: Lori Glaze