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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To See The Eruption

How to get a good look at this eruption? Not a trivial question. The neighborhoods involved are under mandatory evacuation orders enforced by police and National Guard checkpoints. Quite a few people have been arrested and cited while trying to get closer to the lava.

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

This is the first major change in the eruptions of Kilauea in decades. This eruption features phenomena seen in the old documentaries, lava fountains hundreds of feet high, huge flows cutting through the rainforest. Things I have always wanted to see.

As much as I would like to visit, we have simply not tried to get into lower Puna. It is just not pono to interfere with residents frantically trying to salvage whatever they can ahead of the flows, or emergency services already overburdened with the ongoing situation.

Two legal ways exist for visitors to get a closer look… Fly or float. Either take a helicopter ride over the eruption, or take one of the lava boats to an ocean entry.

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Changes at Halemaʻumʻau

While much of the attention is on the lava flows and burning homes in lower Puna, there have been dramatic events at the summit of Kīlauea. The pit crater of Halemaʻumʻau that has been the subject of untold thousands of tourist photos has become almost unrecognizable.

The plume of volcanic gasses from Halemaʻumaʻu
The plume of volcanic gasses from Halemaʻumaʻu under the stars
Halemaʻumʻau is a pit crater created by the ever changing eruptions of Kīlauea. Half a mile across, this crater sits within the much larger Kīlauea caldera at the summit of the volcano. A nearly circular pit that lies at the center, home to many eruptions across the centuries. This often fiery pit is reputed to be the home of Pele, the goddess of fire and creation in Hawaiian mythology.

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The Vog is Bad

Step outside and you can smell the sulfur… In Waikoloa!

Kona Airport in the Vog
The Kona airport wreathed in vog on May 29, 2018
This is a first. The vog has been bad, but never this bad, the entire island is wreathed in a heavy haze of volcanic emissions. As I write this I feel my eyes are irritated, stepping outside you can see it in the streetlights.

Deb and I drove to Kona this afternoon. The usually pretty drive was simply gray, gray with a tinge of yellow-brown. No views of the mauna, no views of the ocean. You could barely see the airport from the highway as we passed.

The vog has been the subject of conversation everywhere, online in social media, and in every single casual conversation you happen into today. The volcano, so devastating to those in lower Puna, has reached out to touch us all.

Vog map May 29, 2018
Vog map May 29, 2018
The vog mapping done by the University of Hawaii showed that mid-day, the vog was sweeping right through the Saddle at Waikoloa and the Kona coast from the current eruption site in lower Puna. Fortunately the predictions are for resumed northeast trade-winds tonight, clearing much of the island of vog into tomorrow.

Things could be worse. An explosion at the caldera today showered surrounding communities with ash and Pele’s hair. Plus, there is much to be said about not having a lava flow, or three, flowing though your neighborhood.

Voggy Luna

The vog has been thick, really thick. Even here on the west side of the island it is enough that visibility is limited to a few miles, the mountains and ocean are lost in the haze. With the ongoing eruptions on the other side of the island and a lack of wind the vog has enveloped the entire island in gray. At times you can even smell it, the tang of sulfur in the air.

As the crescent moon set this evening it was reddened by the vog. Washed with a ruby red that was reminiscent of an eclipse. This image has been processed for noise and contrast, while the color was unchanged from the raw image. It really looked like this…

Voggy Luna
The setting crescent moon reddened by volcanic haze.

Volcanic Speculation

The volcano is up to something.

This morning began with a series of strong earthquakes along the eastern rift zone of Kilauea. The island was buzzing about it, the local news, social media, it was the main subject of conversation in our trucks headed to the summit. By this evening there have been over 250 earthquakes, including many of 3rd and 4th magnitude, along the rift zone, a clear sign of lava moving underground.

USGS Earthquake Map for 1May2018
USGS Earthquake Map for 1May2018
Avid volcano watchers like myself have been keeping close tabs on the eruption for the last couple weeks. The 61g lava flow that has been the main outlet for lava for the last two years has faded into inactivity. The deformation data at the main caldera and at the Puʻu Oʻo vent has indicated steadily increasing pressure in the volcano.

The increasing pressure has raised the level of the lava lake at Halemaʻumaʻu to the point of overflowing into the larger crater multiple times over the last week. This alone can be spectacular as it is easily viewed from the viewpoint at the Jaggar Museum in Hawaii Volcanos National Park.

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Watching Mauna Loa

Being an inveterate volcano watcher, I have not only been watching the new flow on Kilauea, but keeping a wary eye on Mauna Loa as well. The USGS has steadily been increasing the alert level on this largest of the Hawaiian volcanoes over the last year.

On this unstable rock we live, we get a fair number of earthquakes. Of course not every bump you feel is seismic, sometimes it is just a big truck on the highway. You look on the USGS Recent Earthquakes page anyway, just to see what it was. Not this time, must have been a truck. While I have the page loaded I look about… Wait? What is that cluster on the NW flank of Mauna Loa? I do not remember seeing that before!

For the last year or more there has been a steady cluster of small earthquakes just to the southwest of the main caldera. This notable cluster is usually visible when you stop by the earthquake page and indicates magma motion below the summit. It is a big part of why the USGS has upped the advisory level. The cluster on the west flank looks new to me, a lot of small quakes, some deep, some as shallow as 600m.

I am sure someone over at the USGS is looking at the same cluster and asking the same questions. Maybe they have better answers, but they have not published anything yet. Maybe, like so many times before this cluster will fade away, not to appear again. It is however a reminder that magma is moving down there, the mountain is swelling, someday she will erupt again.

Today I will be driving up and down the mountain. I know I will be looking across the saddle at the looking bulk of Mauna Loa and wondering for the thousandth time. Will I see an eruption from her during my years on island?

HVO Earthquakes 15July2016
HVO earthquake plot for 15July2016

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.