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.

The Volcanic History of Mauna Kea

The tour guides give the basic story behind the creation of Mauna Kea. The story given is simple… A hot spot in the mantle is the source for a plume of magma that punches through the oceanic crust and forms the Hawaiian volcanoes. As the pacific plate moves the islands are formed one by one, the latest being the Big Island of Hawaiʻi.

Puʻu Kole Panorama
A panarama from atop Puʻu Kole showing Mauna Kea and a distant snow covered Mauna Loa
This is basically correct, but is also a vast simplification of the process. If you want to learn more about the formation of these impressive volcanoes you need to look further.

Fortunately there is a good source for answers… The Geology and Petrology of Mauna Kea Volcano, Hawaii —A Study of Postsheild Volcanism, Edward Wolfe, William Wise, and G. Brent Dalrymple. This seems to be the definitive paper on the geology of Mauna Kea. Any time I see a list of references for the geology of the mountain, this paper appears. Published in 1997 it incorporates much of the earlier studies on Mauna Kea into one compendium.

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