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NGSS: Core Idea: ESS2.B

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TEKS: Science: 3.7B, 6.10C, 6.10D; ELA: 3.12B, 4.12B, 5.12B, 6.11B

Island of Fire

An up-close look at how a volcano on Hawaii’s Big Island began to burst

© Andrew Lee Jackson/Planet Pix via ZUMA Wire

Scorching lava shoots out from a crack in the volcano. The hardened lava forms a wall, blocking a road.

Last May, 10-year-old Gabriella Tiapula Tuson was in a car with her family when she saw something astonishing. A few miles away, a stream of lava shot out of the ground like a red water fountain. “I’ve never seen anything like it,” Gabriella says.

Gabriella lives on the Big Island of Hawaii. There, a volcano called Kilauea began spewing out lava last May. Over the next three months, the lava damaged roads and burned hundreds of buildings. The volcano also shot clouds of ash and toxic gas into the air. Thousands of Hawaii residents had to leave their homes. Others, like Gabriella, had to stay indoors to avoid breathing in ash.

As of press time, the eruption had paused. Still, scientists are monitoring Kilauea’s activity every day. They hope what they learn can help keep Hawaiians safe.

Last May, 10-year-old Gabriella Tiapula Tuson saw something amazing. She was in a car with her family. That’s when a stream of lava shot out of the ground. It was just a few miles away. It looked like a red water fountain. “I’ve never seen anything like it,” says Gabriella.

Gabriella lives on the Big Island of Hawaii. There, a volcano called Kilauea began spewing lava last May. It damaged roads. It burned hundreds of buildings, too. The volcano also shot clouds of ash and toxic gas into the air. Thousands of people had to leave their homes. Others, like Gabriella, had to stay indoors. That way they wouldn’tbreathe in ash.

As of press time, the eruption had paused. Still, scientists are watching Kilauea’s activity. They hope what they learn can help keep Hawaiians safe.

Warning Signs

People in Hawaii are used to volcanoes. There are five volcanoes on the Big Island, the largest of Hawaii’s chain of islands. Hawaii sits on a hot spot, an area where super-hot, liquid rock called magma rises from deep within Earth.At the surface, the lava cools and hardens, creating new land. That’s how the islands formed over millions of years.

Four of Hawaii’s volcanoes are active. That means they’ve erupted in the past 10,000 years. Kilauea has actually been erupting since 1983. But most of its bursts have not been dangerous. In fact, many tourists visit Kilauea at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

People in Hawaii are used to volcanoes. There are five volcanoes on the Big Island. It’sthe largest of Hawaii’s chain of islands. Hawaii sits on a hot spot. It’s an area where magma rises from deep within Earth. The hot, melted rock reaches the surface as lava. There, it cools and hardens. That creates new land. It’s how the islands formed over millions of years.

Four of Hawaii’s volcanoes are active. That means they’ve erupted in the past 10,000 years. Kilauea has actually been erupting since 1983. But most of its outbursts haven’t been dangerous. In fact, many tourists visit Kilauea. It’s part of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

U.S. Geological Survey

Rivers of lava from Kilauea burn the roads and homes in their path.

But in April 2018, scientists saw signs that a big eruption was coming. A caldera at the summit of Kilauea overflowed with lava. At the same time, other parts of the volcano swelled up like a balloon filling with air.

Those were signs that magma was moving inside the volcano more than usual, says Wendy Stovall, a volcano expert with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). “We knew that eventually the volcano would bust open, but we didn’t know where,” she says.

But scientists sensed a big eruption was coming in April 2018. A caldera at the summit of Kilauea overflowed with lava. Other parts of the volcano swelled up like a balloon filling with air.

Those were signs that more magma was on the move inside the volcano than usual, says Wendy Stovall. She’s a volcano expert. She works with the U.S. Geological Survey. “We knew that eventually the volcano would bust open,” she says. “But we didn’t know where.”

Moving Magma

Some types of volcanoes have explosive eruptions. But shield volcanoes like Kilauea don’t usually erupt violently. They typically ooze thin lava from a crater at their tops (see Inside a Shield Volcano). Lava can also seep from fissures, cracks in weak areas of rock.

On May 3, one of these fissures opened right in the middle of a neighborhood called Leilani Estates. Over the next few weeks, dozens more cracks opened, oozing rivers of lava. The fissures also shot melted rock more than 60 meters (197 feet) into the air

Some types of volcanoes have explosive eruptions. But Kilauea is a shield volcano. Theydon’t usually erupt violently. Instead, they ooze thin lava. It erupts from a crater at their tops (see Inside a Shield Volcano). Lava can also seep from fissures. Thesecracks form in weak areas of rock.

One of these fissures opened on May 3. It was right in the middle of a neighborhood. It’s called Leilani Estates. Dozens more cracks opened over the next few weeks. They oozed rivers of lava. The fissures also shot melted rock into the air. It blasted up more than 60 meters (197 feet).

Luckily, the lava was moving slower than a walking pace, so people had time to evacuate. But the scorching lava flows burned more than 700 homes.

In mid-May, magma began draining from the volcano, causing Kilauea’s top to collapse. Gas escaping from the ground built up pressure beneath the rubble, producing giant explosions of ash.

Luckily, the lava was moving slower than a walking pace. So people had time to get away. But the lava flows burned more than 700 homes.

Magma began draining from the volcano in mid-May. That caused Kilauea’s top to cave in. Gas escaped from the ground. It built up beneath the rubble. The result was a giant explosion of ash.

U.S. Geological Survey

A geologist uses a laser device to measure the depth of the lava near Kilauea’s summit.

The moving magma also caused thousands of earthquakes. Most were too small to notice, but one shook Gabriella’s school. “We had to get under our desks in case there was another shock,” she says.

The moving magma also caused thousands of earthquakes. Most were too small to notice. But one shook Gabriella’s school. “We had to get under our desks in case there was another shock,” she says.

On the Front Lines

Since the eruption began, authorities have urged people to steer clear of the volcano. Parts of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park also closed.

Officials have warned people to steer clear of the volcano since the eruption began. Parts of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park also closed.

U.S. Geological Survey

A plume of ash and volcanic gas rises from Kilauea in May 2018.

But scientists have trekked up close to the volcano to study it. They’ve scooped up lava samples to analyze. Learning what chemicals the lava contains can help experts understand what’s happening underground. Scientists have also used high-tech tools to measure the lava’s movements.

Meanwhile, the lava that erupted from Kilauea has cooled and formed new land. “You’re seeing creation and destruction happen at the same time,” says Stovall.

But scientists have got up close to the volcano to study it. They’ve scooped up lava samples. They want to learn what chemicals they contain. It can help them learn what’s going on underground. Scientists have also used devices to measure the lava’s movements.

Meanwhile, the lava that erupted from Kilauea has cooled. It formed new land. “You’re seeing creation and destruction happen at the same time,” says Stovall.