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“Burning Hot Magma” Or is it Lava?

Red Sky and Volcano

I’m often asked about whether we will see lava while on tour.  Of course we see hard, rocky, braided lava everywhere on the Big Island – it’s kind of our trademark.  Maybe the question should be, “Are we going to see flowing lava?”  or better yet, “Are we going to see red hot molten lava flowing?”  My answer is, “Boy, I sure hope not.”  That would mean we were near some pretty dangerous terrain and the earth might actually suck us in.  Molten lava is usually measured at nearly 2000 degrees Fahrenheit or 4 times hotter than your kitchen oven!  No thanks.  Sure, it would be great to see at a distance, but I actually have no interest in seeing lava up close.  In fact, many photographers, hikers, and visitors have had terrible accidents with lava flows at the park.  Unknowingly, some even walked on hard lava thinking the ground was safe only to find out that there were subterranean lava flows directly below them!  Oh, so that’s why your shoes were melting…

What I do love seeing is older, harder formations of lava that were surface flows that created new land.  There are bubble spatter formations, lava trees, and plenty of lava tubes and caves.  Thurston Lava Tube is one of those older tubes that is big enough to walk through.   (Just try to not hum the Indiana Jones theme song as you enter.)  There are vast expanses of new land at the edge of Kilauea that have been created in just the last few years.  Kilauea has been erupting since 1983!  It’s main crater, Puu Oo Crater, continues to be supplied with new lava right this very moment!  The only way to see Puu Oo Crater and it’s occasional surface flows and skylights is by helicopter.  Call Blue Hawaiian or Paradise Helicopters; they’re both excellent.

The magma chamber beneath is replenishing the intricate system of lava tubes right below your feet – deep down but it’s still erupting!  That giant plumbing system just below the surface is so unpredictable and volatile that it will keep those scientists busy for a LONG time. Kilauea’s summit, or Kilauea Caldera, is really what’s most exciting these days!  Inside the caldera is a deeper crater known as Halemaumau Crater.  It houses a huge well of bubbling lava and spews out smoke and ash 24/7 and it shows no signs of slowing down.  At night, the glow of the lava can be seen from Jaggar Museum as well as various other lookouts near the caldera.  You won’t have to do dangerous hikes, risk death, or even walk that far; Halemaumau is visible from the parking lot and can be accessed by anyone day or night.  That’s why I love my job so much; showing off the awesome power of Kilauea and the beautiful nightly display of Madame Pele!

Every day, we see new and exciting things happening at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.  There’s even a daily lava and eruption update the Hawaii Volcanoes Observatory puts out on their website.  Those that study volcanoes, volcanologists, are right on top of the action at their office located right behind the Jaggar Museum at Kilauea’s summit.  They constantly monitor eruptions, the inflation and deflation of Kilauea’s surfaces, and advise civil defense should there need to be shutdowns, road-closures, or evacuations.  Because I’m into that sort of thing, I have it bookmarked on my phone before heading out on tour every day.  If you’re also into it, check them out!  http://hvo.wr.usgs.gov/activity/kilaueastatus.php

Another cool website to visit is the HVO’s live webcams located throughout the park. http://hvo.wr.usgs.gov/cams/  This is great way to keep up with what’s happening at all the major craters and calderas within the park.


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