Volcano Watch — Volcano watchers should beware

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The eruption from the episode 51 vents has continued without interruption since October 2. The flows have now advanced to within 300 feet of the Chain of Craters Road inside Hawai`i Volcanoes National Park. The flows advanced over the pali during the last week-and-a-half and came within a quarter of a mile of Chain of Craters Road by early this week. 

Volcano watchers should beware...

Volcano watchers should beware

(Public domain.)

The eruption from the episode 51 vents has continued without interruption since October 2. The flows have now advanced to within 300 feet of the Chain of Craters Road inside Hawai`i Volcanoes National Park. The flows advanced over the pali during the last week-and-a-half and came within a quarter of a mile of Chain of Craters Road by early this week. It has now been more than one year since active lava flows were located so near a road.

There are a variety of hazards to be aware of should you come to view the lava flows. The National Park Service is trying to get tourists close enough to view the flows, but safety is a concern. The lowlands along the coast are dry areas, and the lava flows ignite brush and grass fires. The Park Service will put roadblocks in place and close access to the area during fire-fighting operations. Lava watchers should check at Kīlauea Visitor Center to be sure that the area is open before proceeding down Chain of Craters Road to the 21-mile marker. The area is hot, and visitors should bring water and wear a hat to avoid heat exhaustion. Smoke from burning vegetation can cause respiratory problems, as well.

One of the more dangerous hazards near the lava flow are explosions caused by accumulation of methane produced from vegetation covered by the flows. These methane explosions can occur either under the advancing active lava, thereby throwing molten lava into the air, or under older lava flows nearby as the methane migrates beneath them and ignites. Some of the methane explosions throw boulders several feet in diameter through the air. Be forewarned and watch the flows from a safe distance.

Should the lava cross the road, as we anticipate it will if the eruption continues, the smoke produced from the burning asphalt can cause choking. If the flows then continue to the ocean, an entire new class of hazards comes into play. As lava flows into the ocean, the steam cloud that is produced is actually a dilute hydrochloric acid fume called "laze." Breathing it can cause respiratory problems and severe eye irritation. In addition, the lava entering the ocean commonly explodes, forming tiny pieces of glass which can be carried in the steam cloud. These glass fragments are sharp and easily blow into your eyes. The lava spreads out along the coast and forms elongate, narrow lava terraces. These terraces are unstable and can, without notice, collapse into the ocean.

Be aware of these numerous hazards near the flows as you enjoy this spectacle of nature.