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Volcanic gases create air pollution on the Island of Hawai’i

January 1, 1993

In a handful of molten magma weighing about a pound, there is less than a tenth of an ounce, by weight, of idssolved gas-roughly the same weight as a pinch of table salt. Yet this tiny amount of gas produces spectacular lava foundations hundreds of meters high (see accompanying photograph). The fountain occurs as magma reaches the surface, because dissolved volcanic gases exolve and expand tremendously as pressure on the magma is released. Anyone who has shaken a bottle of soda and opened it quickly has received the full value of this basic principle of physics.

Gases are dissolved in magma at depth, where pressures within Earth's crust are very great-many thousands of pounds per square inch. As the magma rises to the surface and erupts, the pressure decreases, and gas is released. The main gases dissolved in magma are water vapor, carbon dioxide, and sulfur gases, with lesser amounts of others, such as hydrogen, carbon monoxide, hydrochloric acid, and hydrofluoric acid. In our pinch-of-salt-to-a-handful-of-magma illustration above, most of the "pinch" is water vapor, followed by lesser amounts of carbon dioxide and sulfur gases with a few "grains" of hydrogen and other acid gases. 

The current eruption of Kilauea produces large quantities of volcanic gases that contribute to "volcanic air pollution." In this article we discuss the nature of the gases released from Kilauea, hoe we study them, and what happened to the gases in the environment after they are released. 

Publication Year 1993
Title Volcanic gases create air pollution on the Island of Hawai’i
Authors J. Sutton, T. Elias
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Earthquakes & Volcanoes (USGS)
Index ID 70168947
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Volcano Hazards Program