Should I cancel my plans to visit to Hawai`i Island because of sulfur dioxide (SO2) and vog?

Predicting the vog levels that visitors might experience during a short stay in Hawai`i is as difficult as predicting the weather. Once volcanic emissions are in the atmosphere, they are distributed by prevailing winds. Where and how bad the vog is ultimately depends on several factors including wind direction, wind speed, air temperature, humidity, and rainfall, as well as the location of the source and amount of SO2 being emitted from the volcano. 

For normally healthy people, the level of vog typically experienced along the Kona coast on Hawai`i Island—especially for short-term exposures such as a week of vacation—can be more annoying than life-threatening. However, if you have existing heart and/or respiratory ailments or other conditions that compromise your physical health, or if you are pregnant, you should check with your personal physician for advice about traveling to any location with poor air quality.

If vog reaches levels that are potentially hazardous to human health, Hawai`i County Civil Defense issues advisories via their website and radio broadcasts and, if necessary, calls for voluntary or mandatory evacuations.

Whether or not you should cancel your trip to Hawai`i Island is a personal decision that only you can make. The Hawaii Interagency Vog Information website has a great deal of information. Also see the EPA's AirNow website.

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Date published: May 18, 2017

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Just like smog and fog, this EarthWord is not what you want to see while driving...

Date published: August 18, 2016

Living with Vog on an Active Volcano: New Resources

New informational products about the health hazards of volcanic air pollution known as “vog,” are available through a new interagency partnership.

Date published: October 5, 2015

EarthWord: Fumarole

Fumaroles are openings in the earth’s surface that emit steam and volcanic gases, such as sulfur dioxide and carbon dioxide. They can occur as holes, cracks, or fissures near active volcanoes or in areas where magma has risen into the earth’s crust without erupting. A fumarole can vent for centuries or quickly go extinct, depending on the longevity of its heat source.

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New Study Looks at How People Cope with Vog

A new study to examine how people who live downwind of Kīlauea Volcano cope with volcanic gas emissions, or vog, is currently underway.

Filter Total Items: 16
White gas plume rising straight up from Kilauea Volcano summit with distant, bright, full moon.
August 16, 2016

With stagnant winds present, the plume from Halema`uma`u Crater at the summit of Kilauea Volcano, stands straight up, showing off the distant, but bright, full moon.

scientist with camera and spectrometer at the edge of smoking volcanic crater.
August 16, 2016

USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory geochemist measuring gases released from Kïlauea with a Fourier transform infrared (FTIR) spectrometer, an instrument that detects gas compositions on the basis of absorbed infrared light. The data obtained from FTIR measurements have been useful in identifying the many components of volcanic-gas emissions, which provide information on the quantity of magma circulating within an eruptive vent. The FTIR spectrometer is aimed at spattering area on summit lava lake surface to measure volcanic-gas composition.

Fumarole on Kīlauea Volcano, Hawaiʻi. Elemental sulfur vapor escaping from the fumarole has cooled to form yellow-colored crysta
April 14, 2016

Fumarole on Kīlauea Volcano, Hawaiʻi. Elemental sulfur vapor escaping from the fumarole has cooled to form yellow-colored crystals around its margins. Credit: Robert L. Christiansen.

http://volcanoes.usgs.gov/vsc/glossary/fumarole.html

Group of women and girls looking at Mount St. Helens in the distance
2015 (approx.)

USGS scientists Kate Allstadt and Cynthia Gardner tell the story of the May 18, 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens and how the catastrophic landslide, lateral blast, and lahar changed the landscape.

Image: Monitoring Volcanic Gases on Kilauea's East Rift Zone
May 31, 2014

Hawaiian Volcano Observatory Geochemist Jeff Sutton and CSAV international volcanology students visit a continuous gas monitoring site on Kilauea's east rift zone during field studies portion of the summer training course. Instrumentation at this site measures ambient concentration of noxious sulfur dioxide gas released from the volcano's vents, along with meteorological parameters, transmitting these data back to HVO in real time for display and analysis.

Image: Monitoring Volcanic Gases on Kilauea's East Rift Zone II
May 31, 2014

Hawaiian Volcano Observatory Geochemist Jeff Sutton and CSAV international volcanology students visit a continuous gas monitoring site on Kilauea's east rift zone during field studies portion of the summer training course. Instrumentation at this site measures ambient concentration of noxious sulfur dioxide gas released from the volcano's vents, along with meteorological parameters, transmitting these data back to HVO in real time for display and analysis.

video thumbnail: Volcano Hazards
July 30, 2012

The United States has 169 active volcanoes. More than half of them could erupt explosively, sending ash up to 20,000 or 30,000 feet where commercial air traffic flies. USGS scientists are working to improve our understanding of volcano hazards to help protect communities and reduce the risks.

Video Sections:

  • Volcanoes: Monitoring Volcanoes
  • Volcanoes: National Volcano Early Warning System
  • Volcanoes: Science for Public Safety
May 9, 2012

USGS geologist, Angie Diefenbach, describes how she uses GIS, (Geographic Information Systems) software to study volcanic eruptions and their impacts on society.

USGS
June 30, 2011

We live at the bottom of an ocean of air. Most adults take around 29,000 breaths a day, children breathe a little faster; but what is in this air we breathe? What are the gases in the air? How much of each gas is there? Do these gases have different weights? How cold are liquid nitrogen and dry ice, and where did those names come from? Come join us to explore these questions at this family friendly presentation with hands-on experiments.

Speakers: Janet Hannon and Stan Mroczkowski

video thumbnail: Halema'uma'u Gas Plume Variations (November 17, 2008)
November 16, 2008

The erupting vent within Halema'uma'u Crater at Kilauea's summit (see http://hvo.wr.usgs.gov/kilauea/timeline/ for links describing eruptive activity at the summit of Kilauea Volcano) typically produces a white to gray gas plume dominated by steam. While ashy plumes released by collapses and explosive events are exciting, even the behavior of the ""typical"" gas plume is interesting and occassionally undergoes rapid changes in plume vigor. This video, from November 17, 2008, shows a day in the life of the gas plume rising from the informally-named Overlook vent. On this day, the plume was especially dynamic with the plume becoming very small several times throughout the day.

The images that comprise this video were acquired by a webcam in the observation tower of the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory about 1.8 kilometers (1.1 miles) north of the vent. The image acquisition rate was roughly 1 frame per minute and the resulting video is played at 15 frames per second.

Image: The USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory Monitors Kilauea's Summit Eruption
September 3, 2008

The USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory (foreground) is located on the caldera rim of Kilauea Volcano, Hawai'i—the most active volcano in the world.  The observatory's location provides an excellent view of summit eruptive activity, which began in 2008.