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Learn more about Hawaii Island's volcanoes, including how to avoid becoming a victim of one

Learn more about Hawaii Island's volcanoes, including how to avoid becoming a victim of one
Geologists are constantly studying the ebb and flow of the lava lake at the summit of Kilauea volcano on Hawaii Island. (U.S. Geological Survey)

Volcanic eruptions are spectacular, to be sure, but they can be dangerous. That's why January is Volcano Awareness Month on Hawaii Island, home of Kilauea, from which lava continues to flow.

Local public safety officials and the U.S. Geological Survey are offering several presentations geared to locals and tourists.

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Four free programs will be held on consecutive Tuesdays at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, home to the hyperactive Kilauea. All begin at 7 p.m. in the auditorium of the park's Kilauea Visitor Center.

Wednesday marks the 35th anniversary of the ongoing East Rift Zone eruption. Since 1983, the flow of lava has buried about 55 square miles on the volcano's south flank.

Nearly 200 homes, a National Park Service visitor center and 700-year-old place of worship have been destroyed, according to the Hawaii Center for Volcanology.

Hardened black lava — 35 feet deep in some spots — covers nearly nine miles of a coastal highway.

But lava was not, as of Tuesday, flowing into the ocean, according to the park service. Many visitors gather at sunset to watch the hot lava splash into the ocean, sending up clouds of steam.

The schedule of presentations
The roiling lava beneath the Earth's surface sends super-heated steam skyward through vents that can be seen in various parts of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
The roiling lava beneath the Earth's surface sends super-heated steam skyward through vents that can be seen in various parts of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. (National Park Service)

On Jan. 9, geologist Carolyn Parcheta will discuss the eruption's long history. She will explore not only the early years of the rift but also the last year's ongoing flow of red-hot lava into the ocean, which has expanded the size of the island and exposed some park visitors to danger.

On Jan. 16, attendees can view images of Kilauea's fury at a screening of a USGS video featuring the volcano and the lava lake within it. After the documentary, geologist Matt Patrick, who is featured in the video, will lead a question-and-answer session.

The Jan. 23 presentation will focus on the lava lake at Kilauea's summit. (Legend has it that it's a collection of tears, hair and ash from Pele, the Hawaiian goddess of fire.) Don Swanson will discuss significant scientific discoveries he and his fellow geologists have made while studying the lava lake.

On Jan. 30, guests can learn how to turn the Daniel K. Inouye Highway (formerly known as the Saddle Road) into an outdoor classroom. The highway crosses between the Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa volcanoes, and you can explore various volcanic features if you know where to look. Geologist Rick Hazlett will help interpret the scenery along the road.

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