Like most armchair volcanologists on this island I have been monitoring Mauna Loa more closely lately. The deformation graphs in particular have been? Interesting. I have even gone so far as predicting that we will not get through the year without a Mauna Loa eruption.
The area of concern has been the western rift zone, exhibiting steady and shallow seismic activity for the last several years. More concerning is the rate of inflation shown in the GPS data, This seems to have doubled in rate around last October.
Then comes today.
An intense seismic swarm is currently occurring beneath the NW flank. Still fairly deep. a few kilometers below the surface, but getting shallower. Magma is definitely moving, a sizable mass moving upwards and emplacing itself higher in the volcano.
This may come to nothing in the near term. Like many seismic swarms it may stop. Just part of the process towards a future eruption some years from now, or never. Or we may be seeing the first step in a new eruption. I will hold to my prediction of an eruption sometime in 2021.
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.
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 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 lava burst forth from the crater wall just before Christmas. After two years of quiet the volcano has again erupted. Within hours the lake of water that had been slowly growing had been boiled away in a huge plume of steam.
I knew within minutes that an eruption had begun, tapped into the island grapevine. While I considered making a midnight run across island I had to bow to the needs of life and regretfully went to bed.
Now well into the new year I finally had a chance to photograph the new lava lake.
Living with an eruption of our local volcano through much of last year often brought to mind previous memories. The 2019 Kilauea eruption was the second eruption of my life, the first being the 1980 eruptions of Mt. St. Helens.
St. Helens was just another of the pretty mountains that dotted the horizon through much of my childhood. I could see it from my bedroom window, at least in the winter when the leaves were off the trees.
When the mountian started rumbling in the early months of 1980 everyone wondered if it will erupt. No one expected it to do what it did.
We did not hear the eruption, somehow the sound skipped over those nearer the volcano. It was the television news that first alerted us.
Seeing the reporting I ran out of the house and down the street a little bit to where I could see past the maple trees. There was nothing to be seen of that pretty mountain, just a dark line in the sky rising from where the mountain stood. West of the line it was a cloudy NW sky, east of the line is was just black.
After the eruption we could no longer see the mountain on the horizon, with 1,500ft gone from the top it no longer stood above the ridgelines.
I have been flying a lot in the Saddle over the last few months. It helps that I can simply leave for work early, stop off and blow through some drone batteries, before heading on to Hale Pohaku where I meet the rest of the crew for a day on the summit. The process can be reversed on the way back down the mauna in the evening after work.
On these short days late in the year this means flying right at dawn and sunset, creating very dramatic light. The rich colors are simply great for photography of this beautiful area of lava flows and cinder cones.
What makes the are even more spectacular is the cloud layer. As you drive up the mauna you pass through the clouds. I love to stop and fly right at the top of the cloud layer, where the fog lays in against the mountain. I am sorely disappointed on those mornings that the fog is not there!
Of course a good video needs great music. I am indebted to Chris Stark, a local artist who graciously allowed me to use his track Dancing in the Rain as the backdrop for the video. I encourage you to head over to his website ChrisStark.com to check out his albums.