Tuesday, January 13, 2004

The Beehive Vent blasted lava inside Puu Oo crater in this picture taken Saturday by volcanologist Don Swanson. The 26-foot-high feature is periodically continuing such blowouts, Swanson said yesterday.

Kilauea crater now spot
for lava spectacle

HILO >> The Beehive is humming, and all around it, Kilauea volcano's east rift eruption is changing.

A spattering stack of volcanic rocks flashing bright red lava, the Beehive rises 26 feet inside Puu Oo crater.

That is a standout where parts of the surrounding crater wall are just 7 feet high, although other parts rise 100 feet.

Although remote -- five miles from Chain of Craters Road -- Puu Oo is the place to look these days for lava spectacles.

The shore of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, once the scene of lava entering the sea in clouds of steam, has been quiet for six months as lava outbreaks retreated upland to their source at Puu Oo.

The cause, according to the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, is that tubes of crusted rock that once carried lava to the sea have become plugged. The lava now breaks to the surface in or near Puu Oo.

That means the best place to view the eruption, unless you can afford a helicopter ride, is the observatory's Web site,

The spectacular photos you will see were taken by scientist-in-charge Don Swanson standing on the crater floor when he flew there.

The observatory has a solar-powered remote video camera aimed at the crater, but the technology is so old that Swanson has a hard time understanding its pictures.

The observatory is trying for a new camera that will tilt, pan and zoom to any feature in the crater, he said.

Although the viewing public liked seaside flows, Puu Oo has always been the focus for scientists because it is the eruption point, Swanson said. At the moment, they are measuring to learn whether the volume of erupted lava is decreasing.

Meanwhile, the landscape changes. Seven small vents, including Beehive, dot a flat crater floor walled at most by 100 feet of erupted cinders, where walls stood 500 feet high in the 1980s.

A half-mile to 2 1/2 miles downslope, new "shields" of lava, up to 1,500 feet wide and 150 feet high, are being built by 15 small vents.


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