The Wai‘ōpae Tide Pools

One of the most beautiful places on the island is gone.

Hawaiian Damselfish (Dascyllus albisella)
A Hawaiian Damselfish (Dascyllus albisella) in a pool at Wai‘ōpae
The Wai‘ōpae Tide Pools were a place where anyone could see the wonders of a coral reef. The calm and protected pools full of fish and lush coral. You could see damselfish hovering over a coral head or watch small barracuda hunt just under the surface.

And they were popular, on any given day a couple dozen locals and tourists could be seen exploring the pools. You could swim across one or two, then have to climb across a few feet of old pahoehoe lava to drop into the next. The more adventurous were rewarded with even richer coral in the outermost pools where the ocean waves created more challenging swimming conditions.

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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.

A Very Unstable Day

The ground beneath us is one constant in life you just expect to never change. Solid and unyielding, we build our lives upon the firm foundations of the Earth. When this constant betrays us it is truly disconcerting. The world loses some of its comforting stability.

Last Friday was a day when our islands were reminded of the instability of our world in a rather abrupt fashion.

USGS Earthquake Map for 1May2018
USGS Earthquake Map for May 6, 2018
It was clear weeks ago that the volcano was restless. volcanophiles like myself found ourselves checking the reports and charts daily. The deformation graphs are a good indication of what is going on inside the volcano.

The tiltmeters indicated that pressure in the caldera and Puʻu Oʻo had been building steadily. At the same time the activity in the 61g lava had been waning. Where was the magma going?

While speculation was rife, no one really knew what was coming. Three decades of eruptions from Puʻu Oʻo has become somewhat routine. People forget that Kilauea can be, and usually is much more unpredictable. That destruction can appear anywhere on her flanks.

USGS Leilani Eruption, 5 May, 2018
Lava emerges from a fissure in the Leilani Estates subdivision on May 5th, 2018, photo from the USGS
The first lava surfaced Thursday afternoon in the neighborhood of Leilani Estates. The observatory staff had gathered to celebrate a pau hana that afternoon, an early Cinco De Mayo celebration with Mexican food. Many of us ate our tacos and quesadillas in the conference room, where the large screen was showing drone video of the first fissures.

We worried about the homes in the neighborhood and the people we knew who lived in the area. We compared notes, recalling who lived exactly where, fearing the lava flows would quickly spread. This was looking like a worst case scenario, a repeat of 1955 with more people and homes in the way.

Despite the outbreaks of lava in the rift zone the previous afternoon, we expected a routine Friday atop Mauna Kea. I had a list of tasks to complete… Inspect the K1 azimuth wrap, drill some anchor points to allow installation of the new ice monitor receiver on the roof, look for some spare parts for an encoder.

It should be an easy day on the summit… It was not.

Friday became a day I will remember for a long time to come.

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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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