The Hawaiian Volcano Observatory said Wednesday that Kilauea volcano is erupting.
At approximately 3:20 p.m. Wednesday, the observatory said it detected a glow in Kilauea summit webcam images indicating that an eruption has commenced within Halema‘uma‘u crater in Kilauea’s summit caldera within Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
Webcam imagery shows fissures at the base of Halema‘uma‘u crater generating lava flows on the surface of the lava lake that was active until May, the observatory said Wednesday afternoon.
The U.S. Geological Survey Hawaiian Volcano Observatory subsequently elevated Kilauea’s volcano alert level to from WATCH to WARNING and its aviation color code from ORANGE to RED as this new eruption and associated hazards are evaluated.
The observatory said that the activity was confined to Halema‘uma‘u Wednesday afternoon and the hazards will be reassessed as the eruption progresses.
HVNP spokeswoman Jessica Ferracane told The Associated Press that colleagues reported seeing some lava spatter and glow within the summit crater.
“He saw that from Volcano House, which is at least two miles away from the eruption site, so I suspect … we’ll be able to see a pretty glow, and who knows what else,” she said.
“The park is open, and there are no road closures at this time,” Ferracane said.
The observatory said the eruption was occurring within a closed area of the park and that high levels of volcanic gas are the primary hazard of concern, as this hazard can have far-reaching effects downwind.
“Large amounts of volcanic gas — primarily water vapor (H2O), carbon dioxide (CO2), and sulfur dioxide (SO2) — are continuously released during eruptions of Kilauea Volcano. As SO2 is released from the summit, it will react in the atmosphere to create the visible haze known as vog (volcanic smog) that has been observed downwind of Kilauea,” HVO said. “Vog creates the potential for airborne health hazards to residents and visitors, damages agricultural crops and other plants, and affects livestock.”
Fanned by southerly winds, vog typically moves across the Ka‘u District, hitting first areas like Pahala, Naalehu and Ocean View, before getting caught up in sea breezes that bring it toward West Hawaii and onshore.
“All signs indicate that it will stay within the crater,” said Ken Hon, the USGS scientist in charge of Hawaii Volcano Observatory. “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.”
Hon said these types of eruptions could be happening for years as the volcano fills up.
Ferracane added that officials are expected tens of thousands of visitors to flock into the park and that people need to be very careful both in terms of natural hazards and COVID-19.
“This eruption is going to draw many people to the park, we’re already seeing people come into the park, drive in after dark tonight,” Ferracane said. “Really need people to remember that we are in the middle of a pandemic and they need to stay safe and to keep us safe, too.”
The observatory said additional hazards include Pele’s hair and other lightweight volcanic glass fragments from the lava fountains that will fall downwind of the fissure vents and dust the ground within a few hundred yards of the vent (s). Strong winds may waft lighter particles to greater distances. Residents should minimize exposure to these volcanic particles, which can cause skin and eye irritation.
Other significant hazards also remain around Kilauea caldera from Halemaʻumaʻu crater wall instability, ground cracking, and rockfalls that can be enhanced by earthquakes within the area closed to the public.
Officials said earlier Wednesday that increased earthquake activity and ground swelling had been detected, and at that time raised the alert levels accordingly.
Kilauea had a major eruption in 2018 that destroyed scores of homes and displaced thousands of residents.
Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald