Lava lake overflows

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For the first time in more than three decades, lava is flowing across the floor of Kilauea volcano’s Halema‘uma‘u Crater.


For the first time in more than three decades, lava is flowing across the floor of Kilauea volcano’s Halema‘uma‘u Crater.

“Where else in the world can you see something like this?” Wisconsin resident Richard Mostowik asked as he looked out from Jaggar Museum at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

He answered his own question with a single word: “Nowhere!”

Starting Tuesday evening, the roiling lava lake began spilling over the vent rim and onto Halema‘uma‘u’s floor — similar to water lapping over a pool’s edge.

By Wednesday afternoon, fresh lava had coated a large section of what previously was cool crater floor.

“We’re estimating, at this point, about 100 yards,” Janet Babb, a geologist and spokeswoman at the U.S. Geological Survey’s Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, said of how far the largest overflow had oozed from the vent.

It marks the first time the floor of Halema‘uma‘u has been exposed to lava since 1982.

As has been the case since last week, when the lake level began to rise, the spectacle drew hundreds to the national park Wednesday.

Among the crowd gathered at Jaggar Museum was Jesse Imamura, an engineer from Oahu, who traveled to the Big Island to witness the action with his own eyes.

“It’s amazing,” he said. “That’s why I flew over.”

Imamura added there had been a big change in the amount of lava that made its way out of the vent since he arrived at the park about 1 a.m. Wednesday.

The first small overflow occurred about 9:40 p.m. Tuesday, HVO wrote in its daily update. A larger overflow occurred at 2 a.m. Wednesday, sending lava a short distance onto the floor of Halema‘uma‘u Crater, and another overflow occurred about 8 a.m.

Repeated overflows already have begun to create levees around the lava lake. Babb said one possible outcome is a “perched lava pond,” a phenomenon in which the lake’s surface becomes elevated above the surrounding area.

“Each time it overflows, that adds height to the vent rim,” Babb said.

As of Wednesday afternoon, the level of the lake was perched about 7 feet above the original floor of Halema‘uma‘u, according to HVO.

When Seattle residents Derek Holman and Beth Pepin walked up to the Jaggar Museum lookout and caught a glimpse of the violently churning lake, the expressions on their faces said it all.

“It’s pretty awesome,” Holman said.

Pepin said the experience was a first for her, and that she felt lucky to be visiting Hawaii Island during such an event.

“(I’ve) never seen any lava before!” she said.

The first lava overflow occurred about 11 hours after a large explosion shook Kilauea on Tuesday morning, the result of a rock wall collapsing into the lava below.

The event threw large chunks of molten lava, known as spatter, onto the rim of Halema‘uma‘u Crater, located 280 feet above, damaging camera equipment and charring the remaining portions of fence from the old Halema‘uma‘u overlook.

Some spatter chunks, Babb said, measured up to 2 meters.

“There were some pretty sizable fragments that were blasted out in the explosion,” she said.

Park volunteer Helene Buntman could be spotted Wednesday carrying a large piece of hardened spatter around the overlook area, describing the fragile, glassy and deformed looking mass to visitors.

“This is a rare treat for us to see this,” she said. “This is brand new earth, a little over a day old.”

Jessica Ferracane, a park spokeswoman, said there has been a huge surge in visitors, and estimated that numbers are likely above 6,000 visitors per day, up from the usual 4,000 to 5,000.

“I think for us, as park rangers, it’s been amazing, and really puts a huge smile on our faces, that people are coming from around the world,” she said.

Ferracane encouraged those planning to visit at night to be prepared for a 1-mile hike to Jaggar Museum and bring appropriate gear, including flashlights.


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