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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Halemaʻumaʻu or Dante’s Inferno?

Processing photos of the Halemaʻumaʻu lava lake presents quite the challenge. The very bright lava fountains are difficult to properly expose while showing anything of the surrounding scene. Yet another try is shown here. This version uses very heavy tonal editing to compress the dynamic range of the lava fountains while expanding the low end of the histogram to show detail in the rock walls. The result is interesting, but quite different than seen in person…

Lava Lake at Halemaʻumaʻu
The lava lake at Halemaʻumaʻu sport several fountains of lava along the far rim, May 2, 2015.

Visiting the Volcano… Again

Manning the Keck Observatory table at AstroDay had me in Hilo again this weekend. Already close, why not visit the volcano again?

Lava Lake at Halemaʻumaʻu
The lava lake at Halemaʻumaʻu sport several fountains of lava along the far rim, May 2, 2015.
This time I drug Deb along with me, not completely unwillingly I admit. A simple plan… Drive over the island early, do lunch at Hilo Burger Joint, off to the mall to do our thing at the table, breakdown the displays, and straight out to the volcano.

That “straight out” to the volcano part was a very good idea, I had made that clear in the plan. Arriving at the park we could see preparations and extra personnel ready for an onslaught of visitors. We got there just in time, parking in the Jagger Museum parking lot. A short time later we learned from the folks just arriving that they were parking at another lot further out. At least the Park Service had a shuttle bus running.

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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.

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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

A Bright Glow from Halema’uma’u

It caught everyone’s attention, suddenly the southern sky lit up, a bright glow coming from the direction of our volcano. This occurred about 21:45 last night, we were getting ready to put away the telescopes, ending a great evening at the Mauna Kea Visitor Information Center.

The red glow was unmistakeable, something was happening at Halemau’uma’u. We moved to where we could see the brightly lit plume over the volcano, conversation buzzing with questions, what is going on?

Our guess is that something, most likely a large rockfall, disturbed the lava lake at the bottom of Halema’uma’u crater. The lake, normally crusted over and dark, can be easily disturbed. If something happens to break up the crust, the glow of this very hot lava is surprisingly bright. Bright enough that we were surprised by the show from our vantage point about 30 miles away.

What happened? I will have to read the daily report later today and see if anything out of the ordinary is noted. A nice event, and a treat for the tourists still at the VIS near closing. The glow faded over the next 20-30 minutes. After closing the VIS and beginning my drive back down the mountain, it had faded enough to be barely visible again.

My Canon G11 is not normally a good after dark camera, but given the bright moonlight, and the brighter glow from the volcano, it did fairly well…

Update! Today’s volcano report indicates a series of large rockfalls occurred last night.

Halema'uma'u Glow
The plume at Halema'uma'u lit up at night as seen from the Mauna Kea VIS, 15s exposure with a Canon G11