COURTESY HAWAIIAN VOLCANO OBSERVATORY
A geologist took a lava sample from the channel overflow on Friday and dipped it into a coffee can filled with water to cool it quickly. The aa flow in the background is overrunning the edge of the pahoehoe.
Aa now pahoehoe
A volcano expert tells residents the lava has changed but does not imperil their houses
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HAWAIIAN PARADISE PARK, Hawaii » Geologists have confirmed that lava from Kilauea's eastern flanks has taken on a new fast-moving form, but assure Big Island residents that there is no immediate threat to their communities or to the main road in Puna, Highway 130.
"It won't necessarily make a beeline for the coast," said Jim Kauahikaua, scientist in charge of the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, in a presentation yesterday to about 200 local residents.
Lava had been erupting from a new East Rift vent in the form of chunky aa, which typically does not travel long distances. But on Friday it took the more dangerous form of pahoehoe moving in tubes.
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HAWAIIAN PARADISE PARK, Hawaii » Although lava flows uphill from several communities on the Big Island have changed to a potentially more dangerous form, they still pose no immediate threat, Hawaiian Volcano Observatory head Jim Kauahikaua assured concerned residents yesterday. The flows remain roughly 10 miles from the closest populated areas.
Kauahikaua spoke to about 200 residents in the Puna district community of Hawaiian Paradise Park, which lies in the path of two out of four computer-generated potential lava flow alignments.
Lava has been erupting since July 21 from a new East Rift vent in the form of aa, a chunky type of lava that typically does not travel long distances.
Kauahikaua has said in the past that flows could travel much farther if the type of lava changed to pahoehoe moving inside an insulating rock tube. That change took place on Friday, he confirmed.
He presented a map showing the current flow is on the north side of the flow field, meaning flows could potentially reach Ainaloa, Orchidland, Paradise Park and Makuu Hawaiian Homes.
Two other flow alignments, not currently in line to receive lava, could carry flows to Pahoa, the business center of the area.
The change to pahoehoe in tubes "doesn't mean it's the end of the world," Kauahikaua told the Paradise Park audience. Once lava leaves open ground and enters nearby forest, its progress would be slowed by vegetation, he said.
Also, a series of lava tubes could form and then clog up, he said.
"It won't necessarily make a beeline for the coast," he said.
A key question is when lava might reach Highway 130, the only roadway in and out of an area around Pahoa with a population of roughly 10,000. Although none of those residents might suffer property damage, the road being cut would mean no fuel delivered to gas stations, no food delivered to stores and the disruption of many other services such as such as police, fire and schools.
Officials have given mixed signals about whether a link to Chain of Craters Road in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park would be re-established across former lava flows that are still cooling.
A gravel road could be built, Kauahikaua said. But the route through the park would be three times as long as Highway 130.
The lava could take "months to years" to reach the highway, Kauahikaua said. But he added, "If the eruption goes on long enough, it almost certainly will cross the highway."