Kilauea Volcano is making global headlines. The mighty basaltic shield volcano recently amped up its eruption action in May. Earthquakes at the summit and lava spewing from cracks in the earth along the Lower East Rift Zone on the southeastern edge of the island are among the many awe-inspiring natural phenomenon that have taken place over the past several months. About two dozen fissures or “linear volcanic vents” have opened and closed in this region. But what is deemed “Fissure 8” recently ceased eruption at the time of this writing. Previously it was producing a river of molten, quick-moving lava that poured into the Pacific.
But even though hundreds of structures have been damaged and many residents have had to evacuate their homes, reverence is still paid to Pele, the Hawaiian fire goddess, and her activities. Ever since Polynesians arrived in Hawai‘i, they have honored the volcano goddess no matter what actions she takes. Ancient tales of Pele date back thousands of years and present an indication to geologists who have gone on to prove that activity at Kīlauea has been happening in various capacities for many centuries. Pele’s mo‘olelo (legends) are steeped in fiery, jealous fury and she is tied to many stories that continue to serve as an integral part of Hawaiian mythology.
Pele’s permanent residence is said to be at the summit of Kilauea where Halema‘uma‘u Crater is located. Before May, a lava lake existed here and visitors could travel into Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park and see its red glow as nightfall descended upon the island. But since the current eruption began, earthquakes and explosive activity, sending plumes of dangerous ash and noxious gases into the air, have consistently taken place here and the park continues to remain closed for safety reasons.
It’s unclear what will continue to happen with the current eruption, as activity can change at a moment’s notice. Nor has it been determined when the national park will re-open due to unstable conditions. But even though visitors are unable to visit the majority of the park or get close to the lava flow at the Lower East Rift Zone, there are many things you may still encounter and fun facts you can learn about Kīlauea and the ongoing eruption.
This is a type of lava flow that is associated with having a “rough” surface. It’s more explosive, faster and can form from large heaps. As it cools, the lava rock feels light in weight and crumbly, but it’s also jagged and extreme caution must be taken if traversing this type of rock after it has cooled and solidified.
This is another type of lava flow that is characterized by a smoother, rope-like surface. It’s generally a more steady, thinner and easy-going flow akin to pouring thick molasses out of a bottle and onto a flat surface.
These are thin golden strands of falling volcanic glass that are created from fountaining lava. If you look closely, these thin fibers actually look like someone’s blond hair. These fibers can be dangerous to people, as they can easily be inhaled and “embedded” in someone’s lungs during an eruption.
These small, often smooth black pieces of basalt rock also come from fountains of lava and are often seen alongside Pele’s hair. They are typically in the shape of a teardrop and are hardened bits of molten lava that are mixed with volcanic glass.
This is one of the most abundant gases that arises from Kīlauea, including the fissures in the Lower East Rift Zone, as well as Halema‘uma‘u. The rate of the release of this gas is currently affecting air quality, especially in the immediate areas, and people who are working in some of these regions must wear masks at all times. This is one of the toxic gases that is mixed with oxygen and water vapor in sunlight to form volcanic smog called vog.
When lava hits the ocean, it creates what it called laze. It’s a billowy white plume of hydrochloric acid and fine shards of glass that are created by a reaction that takes place between seawater and hot lava. Keep your distance, as this substance is dangerous to encounter.
To find out the latest updates about Kilauea’s current eruption visit nps.gov/havo/index.htm.