Volcano Watch — Lava flowing from Kīlauea again

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Following a brief pause in the eruption during the last week of November, lava continues to issue from vents on the southwest flank of Pu'u 'O'o.


Lava flowing from Kīlauea again...

Lava flowing from Kīlauea again

(Public domain.)

Following a brief pause in the eruption during the last week of November, lava continues to issue from vents on the southwest flank of Pu'u 'O'o. During a pause, the structural integrity of a lava tube can degrade. When the eruption resumes, the lava reoccupies portions of the tube, breaking out at weak points in the system. After the November pause, lava reoccupied the tube system to the 1600-ft elevation where flows broke out and advanced down Pulama pali.

Two new surface flows advanced down the central and western sides of the Kamoamoa flow field, and National Park visitors had a spectacular show as the western flow poured over Paliuli.

While observing the Paliuli lavafall, geologists encountered a distraught swarm of bees trying to maintain a honeycomb that was in the path of one of the lava streams. The geologists escaped unscathed, but the bees were less fortunate.

Volume and flow rate measurements of lava within the tube above Pulama pali indicate that the vent is issuing lava at a rate of 350,000 to 450,000 cubic meters per day. This volume is divided between the two branches of the surface flow. By December 7th, these slow-moving pahoehoe flows reached the coastal area below Paliuli. The eastern lobe, which appears be more voluminous will probably reach the ocean.

On Friday, December 16, this flow had stagnated at around 200 yards from the shore because the supply of lava to the flow front was interrupted by a breakout at the 950-ft elevation, where a channeled 'a'a flow was streaming downslope.

By the end of the week, the western branch of the flow was still active but moving more slowly. It is this area, near the end of Chain of Craters Road, that is most accessible to viewing by visitors. Violent explosions, which have been common here, occur when methane, produced from burning vegetation, is ignited by lava. Visitors are reminded to stay within boundaries defined by National Park rangers.

Lava has not entered the ocean since November 25th, and the air at the end of Chain of Craters Road is noticeably clearer. Park visitors on their way to the lava flow will still encounter a band of haze that hugs the ground near the hairpin turn on the pali. If you think that you can smell sulfur or wood smoke as you drive through this haze, you're not imagining it.

The sources of this volcanic smog (vog) are the Pu`u `O`o lava pond, the vents on the flank of Pu`u `O`o, and cracks in the roof of the lava tube. When surface flows enter the forest at the edges of the flow field, wood smoke is added to the normal complement of magmatic gases.

As was the case during much of November, lava flows on the western edge of the flow field could once again encounter Chain of Craters Road. Heavy black "road-plumes" are produced when lava burns asphalt. These plumes are hazardous to your health and should be avoided.