The formerly empty Halemaʻumaʻu Crater filled with lava, with molten rock gushing up in a spectacular fashion. The gurgling, roiling mess of lava continued into the evening as webcams and U.S. Geological Survey and National Park Service scientists captured striking images of Earth spilling its guts.
As of now, the eruption is confined to the crater and poses no immediate threat to those living in the shadow of Kīlauea, meaning we can mostly gawk at the stunning images. That said, the USGS has issued a red alert warning, and the area near the eruption is closed due to hazards in the vicinity.
The Eruption Began With a Burst on Wednesday Afternoon
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, the home to Kīlauea, has a pretty incredible monitoring system in place, given, you know, it’s home to an active volcano. Webcams around Halemaʻumaʻu Crater give virtual visitors an incredible view of the landscape, and scientists regularly keep an eye on the live footage to see what’s happening. Those cams captured Wednesday’s eruption.
The gif above shows the sudden transformation of the crater. In its update on the eruption, the USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory said it “detected glow in Kīlauea summit webcam images indicating that an eruption has commenced” around 3:20 p.m. local time. Fissures formed in the cap of black volcanic rock covering the lake, and a smouldering cauldron of lava appeared shortly after.
Scientists on the Rim Also Captured Surreal Images
Photos from the rim of the crater captured shortly after the eruption began show that the lava lake wasn’t just bubbling up from below. Fissures also opened on the crater’s flanks, sending lava streaming downslope into the growing lake.
The lake rose to a stunning 235 metres in just a few short hours. Another spurt of activity overnight now has the lake standing at roughly 243 metres in depth.
Scientists Were on the Scene All Night
The area of the park where the eruption is occurring is currently closed to visitors, so you’ll have to experience it vicariously through scientists’ observations. It’s best to leave the up-close-and-personal interactions with the volcano to trained professionals.
“Therefore, high levels of volcanic gas are the primary hazard of concern, as this hazard can have far-reaching effects down-wind,” Hawaiian Volcano Observatory warned. Among the biggest risks is what’s bizarrely known as “vog.” The phenomenon occurs when sulphur dioxide, a commonly occurring gas in volcanic eruptions, interacts with the air to create a toxic haze called vog (volcanic fog, get it?).
“ Vog creates the potential for airborne health hazards to residents and visitors, damages agricultural crops and other plants, and affects livestock,” the observatory explained. For those living in the vicinity of Kīlauea, it could become a bigger concern as the eruption goes on.
Scientists have also documented tephra, a catch-all term for volcanic projectiles. That can include cinders, pumice, and Pele’s hair, a term for strands of volcanic glass fibres that look like hair and are named after the Hawaiian goddess of volcanoes. All are dangerous and can cause serious injuries and respiratory issues.
Thermal Images Show the Lava Lake’s Heat
The new lava lake has filled most of the crater. Hawaiian Volcano Observatory has what’s known as an F1 cam to measure how hot things are in the lake. It shows that molten rock has reached temperatures greater than 600 degrees Celsius. The relatively “cool” area seen in the centre of the lake is an island of hardened lava. Temperatures are merely around 100 degrees Celsius there. Hot enough to boil water. No big deal.
The Surreal Images Are a Reminder of Past Eruptions
Kīlauea is no stranger to eruptions. Halemaʻumaʻu Crater was actually home to a water lake that formed last May. It stayed there until December 2020, when an eruption of lava evaporated the lake. In its place, a lava lake formed. A black cap of rock eventually formed over the top of the lake, and activity died down in May 2021. But now the glowin lava is back once again.
The volcano had a much more serious eruption in 2018, affecting what’s known as the East Riff Zone. The eruption also saw the disappearance of the volcano’s lava lake as fissures opened on its flanks. Lava ended up destroying portions of communities on in the East Riff Zone and piling up some 274 metres thick in a few locations. The 2018 eruption was Kīlauea’s biggest in 200 years.
Monitoring Continues to See What Comes Next for Kīlauea
As the Sun comes up in Hawaii, it’s clear Kīlauea is still quite active. But the eruption should likely remain fairly contained.
“All signs indicate that it will stay within the crater,” Ken Hon, the USGS scientist in charge of Hawaii Volcano Observatory, told the AP. “We’re not seeing any indications that lava is moving into the lower part of the east rift zone where people live. Currently all the activity is within the park.”