Pele Meets the Sea

Part II: Still Photographs of Active Lava

Activity at the surface

There are many other things that have been observed by University of Hawaii scientists working just off-shore from the lava entry points. Here we have a series of still photographs that show some of these phenomena, both on the surface and underwater!

Floating rocks are frequently seen in the water in front of the shoreline lava flows. They form from the spattering that occurs when the molten lava touches the water. The resulting porous rocks are hot enough that sea water entering them is instantly converted to steam, which keeps the rocks buoyant. The floating rocks will sizzle and spin in the water for several minutes, until they cool and eventually sink to the sea floor.

In order to see more of what is happening to the lava flows at the coast, we have to put on scuba gear and go diving! As divers swim down to the underwater flows, they frequently must deal with murky water filled with small particles of volcanic glass.

The fracturing of cooling lava by the seawater results in the production of large quantities of sharp glassy debris, ranging in size from fine particles to small boulders. The bottom is very steep here, its slope ranging from 30 to 45 degrees. As a result, there is a constant sliding of bottom sediments down the slope, along with frequent slumping events which transport large volumes of sediment, plus rocks and boulders, downslope.

In addition to having to contend with flowing red lava, underwater explosions and landslides of razor-sharp lava rocks, the scuba divers have one additional worry - floating lava rocks all eventually sink.

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Diving and video movie: Richard Pyle, Jane Culp, Frank Sansone, Gordon Tribble, Jane Tribble, David Schideler, Kevin Kelly, John Earle, Randall Kosaki;Copyright 1990 LavaVideo Productions, 741 N. Kalaheo Avenue, Kailua, HI 96734.

Digitization and HTML presentation: Cristina Lumpkin and Pierre Flament

To see some related photos and for references to some more information that may be of interest, please check out the link to Frank Sansone's web page on our Project Linkspage.