Published: Fri, May 11, 2018
Worldwide | By Isabel Fisher

Violent Hawaii volcano threatens mass evacuations

Violent Hawaii volcano threatens mass evacuations

Lava from the Kilauea eruption has gobbled up streets, cars, and homes, with at least 36 structures destroyed so far. Instead of trying to come up with ways to stop the unstoppable, authorities suggest it's better to use their resources to educate residents on evacuation preparedness and public awareness of the dangers.

Dustings of ash were expected downwind of Kilauea on Thursday as summit earthquakes set off rockfalls into the lava lake and sent up plumes of steam, ash and smoke, the USGS said. These blocks could weigh a few kilograms (pounds) to several tons. But the scientists cautioned that they are unable to predict with absolute certainty when, or even if, that would occur.

The movement of the molten rock has opened space for lava at the summit of the volcano to drain underground, reducing the height of a lava lake at the summit, said USGS research geophysicist Ingrid Johanson. This could create steam pressure that would cause the volcano to explode. In fact, it was tall enough to reach the jet stream, which propelled the ash more than 10 miles away from the crater.

The volcano has been undergoing big changes over the past few weeks, culminating in a dramatic eruption following a 5.0-magnitude quake and a subsequent magnitude-6.9 natural disaster last week.

But as the eruption progresses, "other areas of the lower East Rift Zone may also be at risk", the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory said in its latest briefing.

What we're looking at: Remember those steam-driven explosions at the summit - the ones caused by groundwater entering the void left by the retreating lava? The Hawaii Volcano Observatory website has a wonderful summary of the 1924 explosions, including magnificent historic photos.

How would this compare to the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens?

In little more than a week, the top of the lava lake has gone from spilling over the crater to nearly 970 feet (295 metres) below the surface as of Thursday morning, he said. The total number of fissures that have spewed lava held at 14. "The result is that gas can more easily escape, so their eruptions tend to be less dramatic". But the flow of lava is not constant.

The tall, snow-capped volcano is more likely to have explosive eruptions because of its shape.

Hawaii's Kilauea volcano could blow its top within a week - and if it does, it could hurl boulders the size of refrigerators miles into the air, shutting down airline traffic and endangering lives in all directions, scientists said Thursday.

Based on this information, it's unlikely Hawaii's Kilauea explosion would compare to Mount St. Helens' tragic explosion, which left 57 people dead.

The floor of Kilauea's crater started collapsing on April 30, followed by earthquakes. The landslide destroyed the volcano's northern flank (side) and cryptodome (a bulge of magma inside the volcano). Whatever the cause, the pressurized magma had to go somewhere. One of the nearest communities, creatively named Volcano, and its roughly 2,000 people are about three miles from the summit. And there is the super-volcano below Lake Taupo - previous eruptions from the magma chamber only about 6km below the lake-bottom rank as two of the world's most violent eruptions in recent geological history.

Mandeville would not estimate the likelihood of such an explosion, but said the internal volcanic conditions are changing in a way that could lead to a blast in about a week.

But as we know, it is not all cuddly pandas, fluffy ducks and trickling waterfalls.

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