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HVO scientist says Kilauea lava ‘effusion rate’ comparable to 2018 flows

The latest eruption of Kilauea is producing almost as much lava as the 2018 eruption, although it is so far entirely confined to Halema‘uma‘u crater in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

The eruption, which began Wednesday afternoon, had produced a 60-foot-deep lava lake by noon Thursday, said Ken Hon, scientist-in-charge at the U.S. Geological Survey’s Hawaiian Volcano Observatory.

However, he added, half of that depth was reached within the first two or three hours after the eruption began, with the rate of lava intrusion slowing to a steady pace.

That pace is still formidable. Hon said the eruption’s effusion rate, or the rate at which lava emerges from the volcano, is somewhere between 100-200 cubic meters per second, which is comparable to the rate of flow during the 2018 eruption.

By comparison, the Pu‘u ‘O‘o eruption from 1983 until 2018 produced about 3-5 cubic meters of lava per second.

But Hon said there currently is no indication lava is moving toward the lower East Rift Zone, where the 2018 eruption devastated communities in lower Puna. The seismic activity that heralded the latest eruption has been limited to the area around the summit.

Hon said lava is erupting from the same area of the crater as the last eruption, which began in December 2020 and ended in May. However, he said, this eruption is using different fissures and vents than the 2020 eruption.

“This is a new eruption, it’s not a continuation of the last eruption that went on pause for a few months,” Hon said.

Hon said this latest eruption could indicate a pattern for the volcano over the next few years. After the 2018 eruption depressurized the volcano’s magmatic system, Hon said it is plausible that there could be shorter, weaker and more frequent eruptions for the near future as the volcano repressurizes.

As this eruption continues, the state Department of Health warns of potential health hazards caused by volcanic fumes, particularly in areas west of the summit. Residents, particularly those with respiratory issues, are advised to reduce outdoor activities that cause heavy breathing, drink plenty of fluids, set air conditioners to recirculate air, and prepare emergency plans.

The DOH also warns that masks and face coverings to prevent the spread of COVID-19 will provide no protection from vog or other gases.

Despite this, the possibility of more eruptions in the future could be a boon for nearby Volcano businesses, which typically see visitor rates increase when lava is in the crater.

“Normally, we do get eruption traffic, but we’ll see,” said Lani Delapenia, manager at Volcano Winery, on Thursday. “There was nothing different with our visitor numbers today from Wednesday, though.”

Delapenia said the 2020-2021 eruption didn’t translate into an increase in visitors either, although she added that the brevity of that eruption, coupled with the COVID-19 pandemic, probably contributed to that.

It didn’t help that Thursday was an exceptionally poor day for eruption viewing. Rain and fog fell in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and obscured the plume rising from the crater for much of the day.

Even so, some visitors braved the rain to try to see the eruption Thursday.

“My first reaction was, ‘Oh no!’” said Rene Bradford, visiting from Connecticut. “I didn’t know it was all contained in the crater. I thought people were in danger.”

Bradford and her husband, Allen Bradford, had already planned to visit the park Thursday before the eruption began, but were somewhat disappointed that they missed a better view of the scene: The two had taken a helicopter ride over the park the day before the eruption began.

Missouri visitors Michael and Bobby Moore said they had visited the park earlier in the week but returned Thursday after hearing the news of the eruption. Despite the poor visibility, they said, they were glad they did.

“It’s awesome. It’s one of the wonders of the world,” said Michael Moore. “It’s better than the Grand Canyon.”

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.
Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald

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