In response to a vigorous new eruption in a remote area of Kilauea's east rift zone, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park officials have temporarily closed some visitor facilities and areas.
Arguably the most active volcano on earth, Kilauea (kee-luh-WAY-uh) has a habit of kicking up a fuss. The Pu`u `O`o eruption that began on the east flank of the great shield volcano back in January 1983 is still going on.
Kilauea's summit caldera, the centerpiece of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, is an impressive landform. Encompassing about 2,600 acres, it is 2.5 miles long, 2 miles wide and over 300 feet deep. At one end of the caldera is a firepit whose floor rises and falls with its frequent eruptions.
Since 1969, there have been lots of eruptions from a parasitic lava shield in Mauna Ulu ("Growing Mountain"), which is on Kilauea's east rift zone. The rift zone is essentially a big crack from which 2,000-degree lava pours out. Most of this lava flows unseen to the sea through lava tubes beneath the surface.
Kilauea's eruptions tend to be of the "quiet" kind, which makes it surprisingly approachable. However, more vigorous eruptions can and do occur. At times (but not since 1986), gas pressure creates fire-fountains, great curtains of molten rock spewing as high as 1,800 feet into the air.
The most recent episode of lively activity began Saturday, March 5, when the Pu'u 'O'o crater floor collapsed and dropped nearly 380 feet. A fissure then opened in the east rift zone and began erupting lava intermittently, with some of the lava spattering nearly 100 feet high. To get a glimpse of this activity, which has been dubbed the Nāpau Fissure Eruption, check out the Park Service video at this site.
The Nāpau Fissure Eruption, which was quickly spotted by a helicopter crew, is situated west-southwest of Pu'u 'O'o in a remote area of the rift zone. Though not close to the park's most popular visitor sites, the eruption still poses risks to the public. One problem is harmful gasses released into the atmosphere. The new eruption is emitting around 10,000 tons of sulfur dioxide gas a day, which is far above the norm at the park. Winds can carry this sulfur dioxide and other harmful fumes (in a smoggy mix called VOG) into visitor areas at considerable distances.
Harmful gasses are not the only hazard, nor even necessarily the most dangerous. Areas near the vent can erupt or collapse without warning, endangering hikers or other visitors in the vicinity. Risks to visitors extend all the way to the coastal cliffs (pali) and beaches, where fluctuating lava flows and earthquakes can cause tubes, benches, ledges, beaches, and other landforms to collapse without warning.
Park officials moved quickly to protect the public. Among the facilities and areas closed until further notice are:
• Chain of Craters Road
• A portion of Crater Rim Drive near the Chain of Craters Road junction
• All east rift zone and coastal trails, and
• The campground at Kulanaokuaiki.
This is not a complete listing of the closures. For comprehensive, up to date information about existing and pending closures, visit this site.
Incident Command System (ICS) was put into effect at the park and is now operating out of the park’s new Visitor Emergency Operations Center.
For Kilauea Status Reports, Updates, and Information Releases, visit this USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory (HVO) site. HVO has also installed a webcam that shows live views of the Nāpau Crater. To see these images, which are updated every five minutes, visit this site.