Volcano Run

The usual plan… A 2am departure from the house, a 4am arrival at Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park, at the lava while it is still full dark, enjoy the show through the dawn, then go find breakfast.

Lava Fountain
A lava fountain at the western vent in Halemaumau, Oct 16, 2021

Exiting the vehicle after the long drive I was greeted by a serene silence and bright stars. Orion and the Pleiades were bright and directly overhead. I had to pause and just breathe in the damp forest smells, gazing upwards to the heavens.

There were another half dozen vehicles in the large parking lot at Devastation Trail. I was not going to be alone at the viewpoint, but it was not going to be crowded either. Reports online have mentioned large crowds in the evening, with even the Park Service recommending a morning visit.

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SO2 Monitoring Station

Living with active volcanoes about is made a bit easier if they are properly monitored. The entire island of Hawai‘i is liberally equipped with sensors of various types… Seismographs, tiltmeters, GPS stations, cameras, and gas monitors.

Weather and SO2 monitoring station
A remote weather and SO2 monitoring station

I came across one of these last instruments on a recent visit to Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park, the new Kahuku Unit at the south end of the island. While walking in the gorgeous natural scenery of the park, this engineer was instantly attracted to a spindly frame of tubes standing in an old corral.

The Kahuku Cross Fence station is part of the NPS maintained Hawaii SO2 Network with stations throughout the park. The data is provided to rangers and posted on the park website to advise visitors of volcanic gas hazards while visiting the volcanoes.

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Mauna Loa Concerns

Like most armchair volcanologists on this island I have been monitoring Mauna Loa more closely lately. The deformation graphs in particular have been? Interesting. I have even gone so far as predicting that we will not get through the year without a Mauna Loa eruption.

An intense earthquake swarm on the NW flank of Mauna Loa
An intense earthquake swarm on the NW flank of Mauna Loa, March 30, 2021

The area of concern has been the western rift zone, exhibiting steady and shallow seismic activity for the last several years. More concerning is the rate of inflation shown in the GPS data, This seems to have doubled in rate around last October.

Then comes today.

An intense seismic swarm is currently occurring beneath the NW flank. Still fairly deep. a few kilometers below the surface, but getting shallower. Magma is definitely moving, a sizable mass moving upwards and emplacing itself higher in the volcano.

This may come to nothing in the near term. Like many seismic swarms it may stop. Just part of the process towards a future eruption some years from now, or never. Or we may be seeing the first step in a new eruption. I will hold to my prediction of an eruption sometime in 2021.

Sit back and watch.

A Changing Landscape

A tale of two lava lakes, of a landscape altered in way so dramatic it is hard to comprehend.

We think of solid rock being the ultimate in permanency, something about the world that should never change, at least in the span of a few months. Geologic change takes thousands of years, not less than one, it just seems wrong when this rule is violated.

Places we once stood, or parked a car, a hiking trail across a plain of solid rock… All gone in a dramatic upheaval. A parking lot the lies upon a block of rock the size of a supertanker, sitting hundreds of feet below where I once parked the car. Change is the reality of an active volcano.

The glow from a lava lake in Halemaʻumaʻu lights the clouds prior to the May 2018 eruptions
The glow from a lava lake in Halemaʻumaʻu lights the clouds prior to the May 2018 eruptions

I have seen change on this scale once before when Mt. St. Helens removed a mountain top that stood upon the horizon of childhood memory. Here at Kilauea the change was a bit slower, but no less dramatic.

I look across that caldera and note the places that are the same, the places that are gone. I may understand what has happened and how, but still some parts of my mind insist that this just cannot be true… Solid rock should not disappear or crumble like a cookie.

The glowing pit of Halemaʻumaʻu with the new lava lake
The glowing pit of Halemaʻumaʻu with the new lava lake

The return of lava to the crater seems like a return of normalcy. There was lava here for years, there should be lava here. Perhaps the lava will cover over that yawning pit that should not be. Fill the yawning chasm that affronts my senses so.

Perhaps, if the crater continues to fill, flooded to the rim with new lava, a new caldera floor will form, the cycle complete. Perhaps it may be possible to once again walk across the floor of Kilauea Caldera.

Visiting the New Lake

The lava burst forth from the crater wall just before Christmas. After two years of quiet the volcano has again erupted. Within hours the lake of water that had been slowly growing had been boiled away in a huge plume of steam.

Gazing into creation at Kilauea Caldera
Gazing into creation at Kilauea Caldera with the stars of Crux and Alpha Centauri above

I knew within minutes that an eruption had begun, tapped into the island grapevine. While I considered making a midnight run across island I had to bow to the needs of life and regretfully went to bed.

Now well into the new year I finally had a chance to photograph the new lava lake.

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