Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Why Did Hawaii's Kilauea Volcano Shoot Lava 80 Feet into the Air?

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Why Did Hawaii's Kilauea Volcano Shoot Lava 80 Feet into the Air?

Article excerpt

Hawaii's Kilauea volcano saw 'quite an exciting development' over the weekend: the lava lake at Pu'u 'O'o drained as fountaining lava burst out of new fissures on Kilauea's eastern flank.

A cinder cone brimming with a lava lake, on the flank of Hawaii's Kilauea volcano, appeared to drain suddenly over the weekend, its molten rock apparently finding outlet in a new fissure that opened farther down slope.

The cone, named Pu'u 'O'o, saw its "floor" plunge 370 feet as the lava beneath found a weak area in Kilauea's flank. The floor actually a thin crust of cooler material that sits atop the molten rock like skin on pudding.

In addition, lava-lake levels in Halema'uma'u Crater, which sits inside the large caldera at the top of Kilauea, dropped significantly as well, according to scientists at the US Geological Survey's Hawaii Volcano Observatory. The observatory is perched near the caldera's edge.

With Pu'u 'O'o as an outlet, Kilauea has been erupting non-stop since 1983, giving scientists and tourists alike a window on how Earth replenishes the thin skin of rock that makes up the planet's crust.

The opening of the crack on Saturday "is quite an exciting development," says James Deiterich, a geophysicist at the University of California at Riverside who studies Hawaii's volcanoes. "For several years the eruption has been very boring. There's been no change in its pattern at all" - just lava slowly rising and falling as Pu'u 'O'o went through its paces.

Dr. Deiterich explains that while he hasn't seen much of the data yet from the weekend breakout, the event appears to be common to volcanoes of Kilauea's type - a so-called shield volcano.

Shield volcanoes tend to ooze relatively thin, gas-poor lava over the tops of their craters or through fissures that open along their flanks as magma pushes up, causing the slopes to develop cracks. Regions where the cracks appear are known as rift zones. Pu'u 'O'o is the most active outlet in Kilauea's eastern rift zone. …

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