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Hawaii’s Kilauea Volcano Firehose Lava

by Kimberly Lin

The most active volcano in the world, Kilauea, is awe-inspiring.

Kilauea volcano, the sacred embodiment of the Hawaiian fire goddess Pele, has been emitting molten lava non-stop since 1983. Located on the southern portion of the Hawaiian island called Hawaii or the “Big Island,” it is roughly 300,000-600,000 years old. It is the second youngest volcano of the Hawaiian islands. The youngest is the still-submerged active Lōʻihi Seamount volcano about 22 miles off the coast. Kilauea is the most active volcano in documented history on earth. Recently, volcanologists and photographers have captured incredible “firehose” lava activity in Kilauea’s ongoing construction of the Hawaiian island chain.

Related: Mt. St. Helen’s Eruption of 1980 with Photos and Video

The Hawaiian Archipelago includes the eight major islands of Hawaii, smaller islands, and eroded atolls that fan in a northwesterly direction 1500 miles to Kure Atoll. The source of these islands is a hotspot currently located at the Big Island. Unlike most volcanos which are located at the boundaries of tectonic plates, Hawaii’s hotspot results from a rising plume of magma that stems from the earth’s mantle. The magma pushes its way up through the crust to form volcanos.

hawaiian islands kilauea firehose lave

Hawaii hotspot showing elongation of plume head. Credit: U.S. Geological Survey, public domain.

Kilauea is a shield volcano. It is characterized by sides that gently slope and extend far outwards, rather than upwards like the composite volcano Vesuvius. Kilauea consists of the main caldera at the summit, the primary crater, Halema’uma’u, and also a fault that results in two active rift zones that travel outward 78 miles east and 22 miles west.

Spectacular Activity at Kamokuna

Along the East Rift Zone flowing from the Puʻu ʻŌʻō crater, there is a particular ocean entry called Kamokuna, located on a volcanic cliffside.

Kilauea photos volcano firehose lava

Lava flows from the Pu’u ‘O’o crater down the hillside to the ocean entry point of Kamokuna. Source: U.S. Geological Survey, public domain

A vent at Kamokuna has been shooting out what volcanologists call a “firehose” of molten lava. Although Kilauea is generally a gentle volcano, the fire hose is pouring into the Pacific Ocean causing sometimes-violent explosions of water, gases, and volcanic glass and rocks.

kilauea photos kamokuna firehose lava

Credit: U.S. Geological Survey, public domain.

Kilauea photos firehose lava

Credit: U.S. Geological Survey, public domain.

Additionally, a lava delta of approximately 19 acres had previously formed below the high cliffs. A visible crack formed along the delta, which indicated instability.

kilauea firehose lava

View of lava delta before the collapse and “firehose” formation. Credit: U.S. Geological Survey, public domain.

On December 31, 2016, most of that delta collapsed into the ocean taking with it some of the older high cliffs. Hence, scalding hot water and steam from the plunging cliffs and the explosions from the lava pouring into the ocean are causing large backsplashes of volcanic debris and water filled with hydrochloric acid.

Kilauea photos firehose lava

February 1, 2017. Crack in the cliff above the ocean entry point had widened. Credit: U.S. Geological Survey, public domain

Since then, other additional chunks of this cliff have fallen off as well.

The U.S. Geological Survey has been monitoring the activity of Kilauea and has issued warnings to the public to steer clear of the danger zone. They encourage everyone to heed the forces of nature.

A Goddess of Fire

For the native Hawaiians, Kilauea is the home of Pele, the goddess of fire and lightning. She commands deep respect with her powers of destruction and construction of the sacred land that gives forth life. Her body is the lava that flows and the eruptions are her unhappiness, while her expression is the beautiful display for all the world to see.

National Park Service
Hawaii Volcano Observatory

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