In one of the most stunning and harrowing displays of Earth’s awe-inspiring beauty in recent memory, the Kilauea volcano in Hawai’i (the big island) had a fissure on the outer edge of the volcano open, the beginning of a series of 21 fissures and an explosive eruption that sent lava and toxic volcanic gas spewing 30,000 feet into the air.
The scope of the eruption is only about 15 miles wide out of the approximate 4000 miles of the island as a whole, but the eruption itself is an unexpected affair– for different reasons than you might expect.
The Kilauea volcano is a shield volcano, meaning it’s not as steep as a typical volcano, but it’s positively massive. Erik Klemetti, a volcanologist at Denison University, describes it as such: “The scale of it is hard to comprehend until you’re on the volcano and you realize you can drive 20 miles and still be on the volcano.”
The Kilauea is a smaller volcano than the Mauna Loa, which takes up the vast majority of the big island, but Kilauea (which means “spewing” or “much spreading” in Hawai’ian) has been erupting on a smaller scale for an incredible 35 years since 1983. Craters on Kilauea have contained bubbling pools of lava for decades, and occasional new flows begin near the mostly uninhabited areas of the volcano.
But in the beginning of May 2018, a large series of smaller earthquakes rocked the region, prompting evacuation orders in hotspots and specific places geologists believed were at risk.
Within a week, 27 homes had been destroyed by relatively fast-flowing lava. There had been no warning. A few residents had just moved in weeks ago. Others had no home insurance.
At the same time of this occurrence in lower Puna, the lava lake in the Halemaʻumaʻu Crater at the summit began to drop. Scientists warned of a likely imminent steam explosion due to lava sinking into the ocean and the resulting steam being pressurized as it attempted to find a way out.
On May 17th, these predictions came true, and the Halemaʻumaʻu Crater exploded, shooting ash 30,000 feet in the air and creating more pyroclastic flow. As of May 21, two flows had reached the pacific ocean, creating a toxic gas known as laze and prompting further evacuations as the wind threatens to carry the dangerous gas to more highly populated areas on the island.
The Kilauea Eruption provides one example of the terror and awe-inspiring beauty of natural disasters. Fissures open in the earth revealing hot magma (now lava) that had been hiding just below the surface, below people’s feet. Ecosystems in Hawai’i house organisms that are endemic, or exclusive, to the region, and eruptions destroy habitats of animals and plants nearing endangered status or even extinction.
While these things cannot always be predicted, work can be (and must be) done to revive these ecosystems and allow them to recolonize the large swathes of land claimed by the volcanic flow and thrive once again on the islands.
This is a guest post written by Amanda Boyette.
Amanda Boyette is an emerging author and web content creator based out of Southwest Florida. She loves the ocean, cares for the environment, and may or may not secretly be an elusive swamp person. Follow her blog on Tumblr.