Hawaiian Crater Erupts, Spews Hazardous Ash

May 16, 2008 03:17 PM
by Isabel Cowles
Kilauea Volcano on the Big Island of Hawaii has begun emitting dangerous ash in addition to the toxic gas it has been releasing for two months.

30-Second Summary

Kilauea Volcano in the Halemaumau Crater has been erupting since March 11, but has recently begun spewing ash in addition to plume, the U.S. Geological Survey's Hawaiian Volvano Observatory (HVO) reports.

According to the HVO, Kilauea has recently begun releasing "a white (gray or brownish if not directly illuminated) plume … from the vent in Halema'uma'u Crater." Thursday night, the plume "was lofting approximately 1,000 m (3,000 ft) straight up before being blown to the southwest" and left "a light dusting" of ash on surfaces in the area.

One of the active vents began to glow on March 12, then spewed older, exploded rocks on March 19. Within the last couple of days, “Pele’s hair” (thin strands of solidified lava), and “Pele’s tears” (droplets of lava rock) have erupted from the volcano as well.

Despite the addtion of ash to the eruptions, only one part of the Hawaii Volcanos National Park has been closed in response to Kilauea's activity. According to "Hawaii's Big Island" tourist Web site, tradewinds carry the noxious sulfer dioxide released along with the volcanic ash down the Kona coast, keeping the park's air clean.

Tourists have not been fazed by the eruptions. “People are here and our parking lots are full … but the view of the ash-laden plume blasting out of Halemaumau more than makes up for it," said Mardie Lane, a ranger at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park two months ago. Tourists have observed the most recent activity from outlooks at the Thomas A. Jaggar Museum.

But some health and safety issues have concerned park rangers and aviation officials since the volcanic eruptions began in March—even before ash emerged from the crater. One major concern is that even mildly corrosive volcanic ash consists of tiny fragments of rock and glass that can cause power outages when released into the air.

In addition, sulfur dioxide is emitted as a gas but then condenses into an aerosol, which in high concentrations can irritate the bronchial tubes and cause asthma attacks when inhaled.

The 2008 activity marks the first time Halemaumau has erupted since 1968, though other parts of Kilauea have been active recently. The Puuoo crater in the east rift has had small eruption activity since 1983.

Headline Link: Kilauea's Halemaumau Crater erupts in two places

Background: The Kilauea Volcano and its effects

Reactions: Rangers and officials wary, tourism industry unfazed

Historical Context: Past eruptions at Kilauea

Related Topic: Volcanic eruption affecting flower prices

Reference: Volcanic activity on the Big Island and Kilauea Volcano


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