The End in Sight?

When will this eruption end? The answer to that is a question many are asking on this island. Today we might just be seeing the answer.

Tiltmeter data from the summit of Kilauea, 5Aug2018
Tiltmeter data from the summit of Kilauea, as of 5 Aug, 2018 over the past month
Reports and photographs from the eruption zone show a greatly diminished fissure 8, a mere shadow of the lava fountains visible a month ago. The once vigorous lava channel is now sluggish and crusting over in places.

Even more interesting is the deformation data from the summit.

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How long will this eruption last?

It is the question everyone on the island would like an answer for… How long will this eruption last?

Fissure 8 Lava Fountain
The lava fountain at fissure 8 rising about 250 feet as this Kiluaea eruption continues unabated.
As I write this the eruption continues unabated in lower Puna, with fissure 8 producing somewhere between 50 to 150 cubic meters of lava every second.

This lava has covered much of the Kapoho area and built new land out almost a kilometer beyond the old shoreline into waters that were once over hundreds of meters deep. In the process well over 700 homes and farms have been destroyed and permanently altering the landscape of the Puna district.

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When the Ground Trembles

Earthquakes have been a hot subject over the last couple months around here.

A seismic sensor made from three Honeywell QA-1400 accelerometers
A seismic sensor made from three Honeywell QA-1400 accelerometers
We live on an island that regularly shakes a bit, the consequence of living with active volcanoes. Obviously this has implications for the great telescopes atop Mauna Kea, every once in a while we experience an earthquake with the potential to cause damage.

The ongoing collapse of the summit caldera on Kilauea has been generating a daily five point something earthquake. While not powerful enough to damage the facility, these events do show up in the data each night, bumping the telescope, disturbing the tracking, and occasionally ruining an exposure.

USGS Earthquake Map for May 6, 2018
USGS Earthquake Map for May 6, 2018
Along with at least one strong earthquake, there are well over five hundred small quakes occurring daily as the eruption continues and Kilauea Caldera continues to subside.

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Please Define Normal

We are now more than two months into this new eruption from Kilauea. Two months ago the fissures opened in the Leilani Estates subdivision and homes began to burn.

Fissure 8 Lava Fountain
The lava fountain at fissure 8 in Leilani Estates throwing lava hundreds of feet in the air on June 4th, 2018
For two months this slow motion catastrophe has continued. While a major earthquake may be over in minutes, or a hurricane over in a few days, this eruption just goes on. For the folks in lower Puna the lava continues to destroy homes and disrupt lives.

For those of us outside the eruption zone things are not quite as immediate. We read the daily news, peruse images of helicopter overflights each morning, and wonder when it will be over.

The multiple county civil defense status reports and various emergency alerts that pop up on our phones each day provide current information… A bit of the Mamalahoa Highway has collapsed in Volcano Village with a one lane restriction, the road to Kalapana has re-opened, there is no tsunami threat from that last 5.4 magnitude earthquake.

July 7, 2018 Summit Collapse Earthquake
A plot of the July 7, 2018 summit collapse earthquake as recorded by an accelerometer in the Keck Observatory foundation
Every day is punctuated by a magnitude five point something earthquake. These summit collapse events have become very regular. You can guess when they will occur as the frequency of small quakes increase around the caldera.

For the most part these events pass unnoticed by much of the island. The volcano area gets shaken up pretty well, but these fifth magnitude quakes are often not felt very far beyond that.

On the summit of Mauna Kea these daily quakes often do disturb the telescopes at night, bumping the tracking and ruining exposures, but otherwise too weak to cause any damage to the facilities.

Hualālai peeks over a thick layer of volcanic smog, or vog
Hualālai peeks over a thick layer of volcanic smog, or vog
The most significant island wide impact has been the vog, wreathing the island in a sulfurous haze. Sulfur dioxide pours from the active vents, mixes with water in the air and forms a thick brown grey haze.

When the vog is bad you not only see it, you smell the sulfur, it irritates eyes and nasal passages. Fire and brimstone reaches out to touch us all.

While the vog makes for spectacular sunsets, the vog can also be thick enough to curtail outside activity. A day like today, with brisk trade-winds to clear it away, is a welcome relief.

Fissure 8 Lava Fountain
The lava fountain at fissure 8 rising about 250 feet as this Kiluaea eruption continues unabated.
Opportunities to legally witness this eruption are few, authorities have been enforcing the evacuation area increasingly strictly. Legal options are the fly or float to the eruption. Deb and I chose to fly a month ago, a helicopter flight I am sure we will remember for a lifetime.

I have not attempted to go to photograph the lava river, despite a very strong desire to do so. The county and state have repeatedly talked about opening a lava viewing area. while there is a great deal of pressure from the community, so far nothing has materialized.

We are so ready for this eruption to be over.

Given the collapse of the summit caldera and the enormous volume of lava emitted so far, it may be possible that when this is over there will be no further eruption for a while. It may take a while for the volcano to recharge, perhaps a year or two. Will we return to the pattern of intermittent eruptions that was seen through much of the 20th century?

Emergency Alert Fatigue

The last month has been a bit… exciting… here on the island. With lava flows and explosive eruptions spawned by our neighborhood volcano.

Another Eruption Message
Yet another eruption status message arrives on my phone.
Along with the ongoing eruption in the lower east rift zone, there are the events at the summit caldera of Kilauea. The withdrawal of magma from the summit storage chamber has resulted in the ongoing collapse of the Haelmaʻumaʻu crater area. Magnitude five point something earthquakes are now a daily occurrence as this collapse continues.

The result? Over the last month we have been bombarded by far too many messages on eruption conditions, vog conditions, earthquakes, and non-tsunami alerts. It is wearing a little thin. And frankly I am ignoring much of it, when I probably should not.

Emergency fatigue has set in.

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Puna Glow

Puna is glowing.

Not a good glow when you consider that glow is from a raging river of lava between fissure 8 and the sea at Kapoho. Still it can be pretty under the rising Milky Way. I stayed late at work and took a few photos on the way down the mauna. Click on the image for full scale goodness…

Puna Glow
The glow of lava in the clouds and vog over Puna. Five image panorama with a 14mm lens from the summit of Mauna Kea.

Burning Farms

One of the most poignant scenes we witnessed was the many farms destroyed by the lava

Flow Front
The front of the fissure 8 flow approaches Kapoho Bay
We took our helicopter ride Sunday morning, June 3rd. At this point the large flow from fissure 8 had not yet reached the neighborhoods at Kapoho. What the flow was burning through were the many papaya orchards and flower growers found above the bay.

Houses are bad enough, seeing the farms in front of the lava flow was worse. I found myself looking through the telephoto lens at the neat greenhouses, the orchards green in the morning sunlight. The wide flow front was in the process of destroying so many farms, remorselessly moving through the neat rows of papaya trees.

Orchid Plantation Inc.
The greenhouses of Orchid Plantation Inc. disappearing under the lava.
I am aware of how much a farmer puts into the land… Sweat, blood, heart and soul. I look at the photos and I see immaculate operations… Well maintained buildings, no weeds around the structures, the pitiless lava flow advancing. Each scene that appeared in the camera viewfinder was gut-wrenching.

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