Explosion rattles Overlook Crater

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If a bubbling lake of lava wasn’t exciting enough, visitors to Kilauea’s summit Tuesday morning received an extra dose of Madame Pele’s fury.

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If a bubbling lake of lava wasn’t exciting enough, visitors to Kilauea’s summit Tuesday morning received an extra dose of Madame Pele’s fury.

At about 10:20 a.m., a portion of the Halema‘uma‘u Crater wall collapsed into the roiling lava lake, triggering an explosive event that sent lava, ash and smoke high in the air.

“The explosion did throw fairly large blobs of molten lava, which we refer to as spatter, onto the rim of Halema‘uma‘u Crater,” which is located approximately 280 feet above, said Janet Babb, a geologist and public information officer at Hawaiian Volcano Observatory.

A pair of similar explosions occurred early Saturday morning, dusting the Jaggar Museum with sand-sized bits of ash.

For a video of the explosion event, click http://hvo.wr.usgs.gov/multimedia/uploads/multimediaFile-1168.mp4.

Babb said that following Tuesday’s event, the lava lake was “quite agitated,” with increased roiling and spattering. She compared it to when a body of water is put in motion, and said it took awhile for the lava lake to settle back down.

Katie Hoggan, a tour guide with Arnott’s Lodge and Hiking Adventures, was among those who caught a glimpse of the action from the nearby Kilauea Iki Trail.

“Someone in my group heard a big rumble, and then I just heard the aftermath of it … I started instantly taking photos,” she said.

Having hiked that trail weekly for about two years now, Hoggan knew what she saw was not normal. She managed to catch the aftermath — a massive plume of ash and smoke rising over Halema‘uma‘u — on her camera.

“Oh my gosh, the timing was incredible,” she said. “It was really cool.”

Earlier Tuesday morning, the lava lake reached the rim of the Overlook crater vent, but dropped again before spilling over its edge.

The level of the lake, which has risen significantly since last week, remained about 3 to 4 meters (10 to 13 feet) below the rim, but has fluctuated to slightly deeper and shallower levels depending on the vigor of spattering, according to HVO’s update Tuesday morning.

“The lava lake reached briefly to the rim this morning, during a period when all spattering stopped, but did not get quite high enough to overflow onto the Halema‘uma‘u Crater floor,” HVO wrote.

Geologists reported no significant inflation or deflation at Kilauea’s summit since Monday.

Tuesday’s rock fall occurred when the lake level was high, resulting in a small amount of lava sloshing over the vent rim, according to Babb. She said the observatory also is monitoring what are known as “spatter ramparts,” bits of molten lava accumulating on the vent rim.

HVO also was working Tuesday afternoon to fix an instrument that was damaged in the explosion, Babb said.

The last time the floor of Halema‘uma‘u Crater saw lava was 1982, when a small puddle reached the bottom following an eruption from a 0.6-mile-long fissure that cut across the Kilauea caldera floor northwest of the crater.

The recent rise of the lava lake has not resulted in any significant change or increased activity at nearby Pu‘u ‘O‘o vent. All active flows from Pu‘u ‘O‘o remain within about 5 miles of the vent, and about 8 miles from the area of Highway 130 near Pahoa, according to county Civil Defense.

Presently, the Kilauea volcano alert level remains at the “watch,” or orange threat, level and there is no immediate threat to any downslope communities.

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For updated information, visit hvo.wr.usgs.gov.

Email Chris D’Angelo at cdangelo@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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