Hawaii is home to one of the world’s most active volcanoes, Kilauea (kee-lah-WAY-ah). The volcano has been erupting nonstop for more than 35 years. Lava from Kilauea usually pours slowly into the Pacific Ocean, creating a fiery show. But recently, a much more dramatic show started.
“Lava began gushing out of the tube opening like water gushes from the end of a fire hose,” says Janet Babb. She’s a scientist at the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory. Lava is still bursting from a huge hole on the side of a cliff on Kilauea. This rare event is known as a fire hose flow. As the lava slams into the ocean, it creates an explosion of steam and rock.
NO END IN SIGHT
Kilauea is located on what is known as Hawaii’s Big Island. (The island’s official name is Hawaii, the same as the state.) Lava from the volcano can cause destruction when it flows into nearby towns. But it also creates land, making the island bigger. When lava reaches the ocean, it cools and hardens into a type of rock called basalt.
Last May, a new vent, or hole, opened on Kilauea. As lava from the vent flowed over land, the air cooled the top layer. That lava crusted over to form a tube. In July, lava from that tube began oozing into the sea. It eventually hardened into an unstable (likely to fall, move, or sway) landmass called a lava delta. The delta grew to be about the size of 20 football fields. On New Year’s Eve, it collapsed, along with a huge section of the sea cliff near the delta. That exposed much more of the underground tube. Millions of gallons of lava began to rocket into the sea.
Babb says there’s no telling when the fire hose flow will end. These events usually last a day or two. But as SuperScience went to press, this one had been gushing for nearly two months.
Visitors from around the world have flocked to Hawaii to see the fiery flow. But park officials won’t let anyone get within a half-mile of it. Babb warns that the superhot steam and flying rocks are dangerous.
“Lava flows are beautiful but must be respected for the hazards associated with them,” she explains.