COURTESY RHONDA LOH / CHIEF OF NATURAL RESOURCES MANAGEMENT
Steam, gas, and smoke rose from the site of yesterday's lava flow outbreak on the upper east rift of Kilauea Volcano. This rainforest is characterized by tall, old ohia and olapa trees with a thick understory of hapuu tree ferns. CLICK FOR LARGE
Quakes open fissures, threatening rare plants
Three large cracks have been formed in a forested area of Kilauea, one of the world's most active volcanoes, threatening to cause a lava outbreak that could endanger rare plants and species, officials said yesterday.
The third fissure was discovered yesterday in the upper east rift zone, a few miles southeast of Kilauea's summit, near where two were spotted earlier this week spewing steam and oozing lava.
"There's just smoldering. There's no open flames or anything like that," said Jim Gale, a spokesman for Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. "We're very fortunate because we just had a series of rains so the area is relatively wet."
The area is an ecological area home to honeycreeper birds, happy face spiders and damselflies. There are also native trees and ferns found nowhere else in the state.
Officials were considering setting up water pools in the area to help extinguish possible fires.
"This is a real vital part of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. It's a vital habitat," Gale said.
Scientists have also detected hazardous sulfur dioxide concentrations near Kilauea's summit. The concentrations are greater than 10 parts per million, according to the U.S. Geological Survey's Hawaiian Volcanoes Observatory.
Researchers on the Big Island had been on alert for a new lava breakout point after hundreds of small earthquakes occurred Sunday, suggesting magma, or underground lava, was shifting beneath the surface.
"The earthquakes indicate that rocks are breaking and moving," Gale said. "What drives that breaking of rock is magma."
However, the earthquakes seem to have slowed since Tuesday, with fewer than 10 small earthquakes per hour being recorded in the upper East Rift Zone.
On Tuesday, a small outbreak of lava oozed about 150 feet from a 600-foot-long fissure. The lava was cooling and not advancing, the U.S. Geological Survey said.
Part of the park remained closed to protect public safety because of the activity. Meanwhile, the state Department of Land and Natural Resources announced the closure of Pu'u O'o Trail from Glenwood, starting in Fern Forest subdivision. It will remain closed until further notice.
Kilauea has been erupting nearly continuously since Jan. 3, 1983, sending lava from the Pu'u O'o cone through a system of tubes to the ocean, where it forms new land over time.
In Hawaiian tradition, Kilauea is home to Pele, the volcano goddess. Lava is said to be her physical representation.