Volcano Watch — The opening of a new viewing area of the eruption

Release Date:

At 2:00 p.m. on Friday, August 17, the County of Hawai`i officially opened to the public a new viewing area of the current eruptive activity. The viewing area overlooks the spectacular seascape of the lava bench and accompanying black sand beach at the ocean entry east of Kupapa`u.

This Kalapana Safe Viewing project evolved from a meeting of County, State, and Federal agencies assembled by Mayor Harry Kim on July 23, 2001. The meeting was convened to resolve a solution to the problem of a growing number of people entering the Kalapana disaster zone to view the active lava flows. The decision arrived at this meeting was that, given the present location of the ocean entry, a safe viewing area with easy access would be established.

With the establishment of this viewing area, the lament that we often hear from both residents and visitors about not being able to see molten lava should diminish. The activity at the ocean entry will satisfy most lava buffs.

In addition to the multi-governmental agencies, subsequent meetings included a member of the Kalapana community and representatives of the travel industry. Responsibilities for various aspects of the project were assigned and progress reported.

The task of the U.S. Geological Survey's Hawaiian Volcano Observatory in this project was viewer safety. We were asked to outline the boundaries of the public viewing area, to help route a trail from the end of the road to the viewing area, and to advise on signage that would inform the public of possible volcanic hazards. Informational posters were made from illustrations in USGS Fact Sheet 152-00 (Viewing Hawai`i's Lava Safely -- Common Sense is Not Enough) prepared by HVO. HVO personnel will also assist in training local interpreters stationed at the viewing site.

The remarkable feature of this project was the positive "can do" attitude displayed by all the people involved. To feel the synergy of the various governmental agencies and community groups was exhilarating. And the overriding concern of the group was to protect and respect the property and culture of the local Kalapana community while providing everyone an opportunity to see and experience a rare natural phenomenon.

From inception to dedication, the Kalapana Safe Viewing project took only 25 days to complete. The bulk of the work was the widening and smoothening of 4.3 km (2.6 miles) of a four-wheel-drive bulldozed road. The County Public Works Department and the State Highways Division worked closely together to accomplish this task. Now vehicles up to a 15-passenger van can easily traverse from the end of the pavement of Highway 130 to the 160 marked parking stalls of the viewing area.

A well-identified trail leads from the parking area to the viewing area. HVO laid out the route of the trail, and the County Public Works, with help from Hawai`i Volcanoes National Park, set out the reflective posts and blinkers.

Our selection of the viewing area was based on safety issues. The location is upwind of the highly acidic and glass-laced steam plume and is far enough away from the bench to avoid any possible explosive debris. Most vantage points within the viewing area provide a clear line of sight to the ocean entry of lava. Boundaries of the viewing area are delineated by barricades connected with rope.

Signs are placed throughout the area to help viewers have a safe and memorable visit. People who ignore the signs may encounter problems, especially if they go beyond the bounds of the viewing area and onto the lava bench and beach. We wrote about the hazards posed by the lava bench in last week's column. We again emphasize that the black sand beach is also part of the bench and subject to collapse.

We encourage everyone to take advantage of this opportunity to see the lava entering the ocean. The U.S. Geological Survey's Hawaiian Volcano Observatory is proud to have participated and contributed to the Kalapana Safe Viewing project.

Volcano Activity Update

Eruptive activity of Kīlauea Volcano continued unabated at the Pu`u `O`o vent during the past week. Lavamoves away from the vent toward the ocean in a network of tubes and descends Pulama pali in two separate areas. Scattered small surface flows, primarily ooze-outs from inflated areas in the coastal flats, are occasionally observed. Lava continued to enter the ocean in the area east of Kupapa`u throughout the week. The public is reminded that the ocean entry areas are extremely hazardous, with possible collapses of the new land. The steam cloud is extremely hot, highly acidic, and laced with glass particles. Swimming at the black sand beach of the bench can be a blistering or even deadly venture.

One earthquake was reported felt during the week ending on August 16, 2001. Residents island-wide felt an earthquake at 10:14 p.m. on Friday, August 10. The magnitude-4.5 earthquake was located 9 km (5.4 mi) west of Pahala at a depth of 10.9 km (6.5 mi).