What Will Kilauea Do?

The pressure just keeps on building. This is a major surge of magma into the mountain. There is not much mystery about this… The increased seismic levels, the rising lava lake, but most of all the tilt meters indicating substantial inflation of the summit caldera.

Kilauea Deformation 20150502
Deformation data for Kilauea Caldera from the USGS Hawaii Volcano Observatory for May 2, 2015
Always watch the deformation data, this is the single best indicator of the pressure in the magma chamber. Sensitive tilt meters continuously monitor the swelling of the summit around the caldera, giving a real time view inside the volcano.

As you can see from the graph it has gone up and up over the last week. There have been a couple pauses, almost looking like it was going to begin deflation. But no, it just goes up again. The result is lava spilling out onto the floor of Halemaʻumaʻu crater and a beautiful nighttime show.

The interesting thing is that this increase in pressure has not been seen at the downslope vent around Puʻu ʻŌʻō. The flows there remain rather anemic and there is no sign of inflation around the vent. Add the seismic data and things get interesting.

Kilauea Seismic Data 20150502
Seismic data for the Kilauea Caldera and southeast rift zone May 2, 2015
The USGS has sketched out this basic outline of the events in the volcano in their public press releases. But they are rather cautious to give any strong predictions. No surprise, they have a reputation to maintain. Perhaps it is wise to not give any predictions, this volcano may seem predictable, but when you least expect it it does something different.

I on the other hand, have no professional reputation as a vulcanologist. I can throw caution to the wind and prognosticate…

My prediction? Unless something occurs to relieve the pressure, perhaps a major increase in the flow of lava at Puʻu ʻŌʻō, there will be an eruption elsewhere. My guess? South of the main caldera along the southeast rift zone in the Makaopuhi Crater or Nāpau Crater area.

When? Who knows, much depends on the magma supply surge continuing. As long as the pressure keeps building the odds of an eruption elsewhere on the volcano increase with it.

It will be interesting to watch. And watch we will. I expect to be at the Jagger museum overlook Saturday evening. Look for the crowd around my telescope.

Watching the Lava Boil and Froth

Watching the fantastic scene below me it was the famous lines from a play that came to me…

Halemaʻumaʻu Lava Lake
The lava lake at Halemaʻumaʻu on the morning of April 27, 2015

Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn, and cauldron bubble.

Witch’s scene from
Shakespeare’s MacBeth

This cauldron is roughly 500ft (200m) across and filled not with a witches brew, but a seething pool of lava. And while a line from Shakespeare might begin the description, it can not fully capture the reality… A churning pool of lava, mostly crusted over with thin sheets of dark material broken by brilliant red cracks. Along the edges bright fountains are powered by gasses escaping from deep below. In the night the brilliance of the lava lake was startling, illuminating the plumes of gasses and the low clouds over Kilauea Caldera.

To see this cauldron I had gotten up well before three in the morning for the nearly two hour drive across island. I traveled over Saddle Road and then up the volcano highway to Kilauea. Why the effort? The lava lake that has been present in the Halemaʻumaʻu crater was visible for the first time, at least from any publicly accessible place in the park. Normally the surface of this lava lake has been several hundred feet below the crater floor, hidden from direct view. An unprecedented surge of pressure in the Kilauea magma chamber has pushed the lake level to new heights, almost spilling out onto the floor of the crater.

Driving into the park revealed the first surprise. I was part of a little convoy of half a dozen vehicles, a bit unexpected at 4am. Arrival at the Jagger Museum parking lot I encountered an almost full parking lot, just a few spaces left in a very large lot. There were several hundred visitors already on the large terrace viewing area. A huge crowd, all here to see the lava.

Continue reading “Watching the Lava Boil and Froth”

Lava Lake at Halemaʻumaʻu

A bit of video put together from the clips I recorded at Kilauea Caldera this morning. The video was shot with a Canon 6D and a Televue 76mm telescope. It really does not do justice to the image through the ‘scope with a mark I eyeball. But it will have to do.

The soundtrack was mostly wind noise and random comments from the crowd of people watching the spectacle. Very faintly you can hear some of the noises from the lava, but only in spots. Instead of this annoyance I just threw a copy of Fireworks Music in place of the mic noise, much better.

Lava Lake at Halemaʻumaʻu from Andrew Cooper on Vimeo.

A Lava Lake at Halemaʻumaʻu

It was worth the predawn dive across the island!

Up well before 3am and on the road. Blitz across Saddle Road, through Hilo and up to the volcano. I expected a small crowd at that time in the morning, what I found was a mite more than that. The parking lot was nearly full, I was lucky to get a spot as someone else was pulling out. Several hundred folks were already on the terrace at the HVO Jagger Museum. No surprise, it was a beautiful view of a lava lake with small fountains along the edge. I did have an advantage over most of the crowd, I brought a small telescope.

I will put in a better write-up later when I get a chance to process the photos. In the meantime one quick process..

Halemaʻumaʻu Lava Lake
The lava lake at Halemaʻumaʻu on the morning of April 27, 2015

The Advance of Pāhoehoe Lava Flows

An excellent video showing how pāhoehoe lava flows advance. A flow is a surprisingly complex process. A quick look or photograph will fail to reveal what it going on, it takes time to observe something that occurs this slowly. I have spent hours watching and filming flow fronts advance, totally amazed at what I saw when I really watched…

Time lapse shows the process more clearly than watching in person. It is the inflation of a pāhoehoe flow that shows in a compressed timescale. A flow a foot or two thick becomes six or ten feet thick over the course of a few hours. Also revealed are how other features of the flow form… The ropy surface, the broken plates, the cracks where lava has oozed out. After having watched a flow in process I see old lava flows in an entirely new way.

Below is an old video, filmed over several visits to the lava during the summer of 2010. I have better material now. Some time I need to put it together into a new video. Still, you can see the process of breakout, advance, crust over, inflate, then breakout again.

Flowing Rock from Andrew Cooper on Vimeo

I have yet to have an opportunity to see an ʻaʻā flow advancing. They move entirely differently. I understand the sound of an ʻaʻā flow is impressive, a moving gravel pile of grinding and falling rock.

Lava Advances on Pāhoa

We have all been watching the lava flow for the past several weeks as it crept ever closer to the homes and businesses of Pāhoa. Not since the destruction of Kalapana in the 1980’s has the volcano threatened so much destruction. This historic plantation town is a special place, a town with a very unique character, a place that preserves some of what makes Hawaiʻi special.

This morning the flow crossed the first road above the town. If the flow keeps the current advancement rate it will be in the town over the next couple days. My thoughts are with the residents of Pāhoa… Stay safe!

Lava Entry Toned

Same shot as yesterday, but some severe toning put into the mix. Processing this way can reveal a great deal of texture lost in a more realistic processing of the image. The result is a hyper-realistic image. Such images are fun to play about with, but are they real? Are they honest? Are they art?

Ocean Entry Toned
Lava pours into the sea at the Kupapa’u ocean entry