COURTESY CHRISTINA HELIKER / HVO
A new, thin flow of pahoehoe lava extended from a Kilauea Volcano fissure, toppling tree ferns and a few ohia trees. The fissure had stopped erupting by the time this photo was taken after 8 a.m. yesterday. Hawaiian Volcano Observatory geologist Tim Orr is pictured. CLICK FOR LARGE
Fresh lava flow scorches native forest
Kilauea's latest rumblings echo '90s activity
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HILO » A brief eruption in a new area on Kilauea volcano's east rift yesterday is similar to patterns of other volcanic activity seen in 1997 and 1999, said Jim Kauahikaua, head of the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory.
If the 1997 and 1999 events provide any prediction, eruptive activity will eventually return to Pu'u O'o crater, further downrift, Kauahikaua said. The eruption just north of a hill called Kane Nui O Hamo lasted just a few hours either Monday night or before daybreak yesterday morning.
That was long enough to cut a scar of new lava and char vegetation in a sensitive ecological area of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
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HILO » Fast-paced events including a brief eruption on Kilauea volcano's east rift left scientists uncertain yesterday about what comes next after the swarm of small earthquakes that started Sunday morning.
They were hoping that two geologic events in 1997 and 1999 point toward a brief life for the current activity followed by a return to peaceful eruptions at Pu'u O'o crater.
At 7 a.m., Hawaiian Volcano Observatory head Jim Kauahikaua and two other scientists made a helicopter flight eight miles southeast of Kilauea's summit to a hill called Kane Nui O Hamo. They found steam coming out of the side of the hill and more steam from the forest floor north of the hill.
Landing, they found a line of fresh lava, about 800 feet long, already solidifying.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park rangers said the native forest there is so well preserved that it is designated a Special Ecological Area.
Scientists found trunks of ohia trees scorched and hapuu tree ferns burned, but the damage was so limited that it was barely visible from the air.
As the day progressed, seismographs continued to show a decline in small earthquakes.
COURTESY HAWAIIAN VOLCANO OBSERVATORY
The only lava visible from Pu'u O'o to the sea yesterday was this single stream entering the water at the Poupou entry. CLICK FOR LARGE
But in midafternoon, the summit eight miles west began emitting large amounts of poisonous sulfur dioxide, and the park closed the south side of Crater Rim Drive.
Kauahikaua said the gas can be a sign of a coming eruption, but no other eruption signals accompanied it. Happening on the same day as events at Kane Nui O Hamo, "it seems to be coincidental," he said.
Two other events, similar to this week's earthquake swarm, seemed to offer guidance to the scientists.
In 1999, a magma intrusion flowed to the area underground but did not break to the surface. In 1997, as now, earthquakes were dying away, said seismologist Dave Wilson. "That's when it broke out to the surface," he said.
Kauahikaua said the numbers were bigger then: The widening of the ground was greater. The buildup to the eruption took more time. The eruption itself was longer, 22 hours.
Will this week's events be somewhat similar? "The end of the story hasn't been told," Kauahikaua said.
While the scientists pondered, the public enjoyed.
"Wow," said Rosemarie Leal of San Diego, visiting the national park's Jaggar Museum, with its seismograph record showing the earthquake swarm Sunday. That was the day she married her sweetheart, Mark Leal, in Kahala.
Like the scientists, the couple had taken a helicopter flight over the area, but saw only forest and steam.
Tour guide Lehua Fua admitted, "It's kind of scary." But she reminded her guests that this is a positive thing. "Pele (the goddess of the volcano) is creating," she said.
Matt Hughes, 13, of Reading, Pa., was just hoping for an eruption he could get close to. "I want a picture," he said.