Kilauea lava flow changes its pattern
The eruption keeps a southerly course but is now coming from a new source
HILO » Lava from Kilauea volcano's 4-month-old East Rift vent suddenly changed its eruption pattern yesterday, leaving uncertainty about what will come next.
The latest flows from the area of the "July 21 vent" appeared mostly headed south toward the sea, the same direction flows traveled for much of the previous 17 years.
A Hawaii Fire Department helicopter overflight with geologists on board discovered the change at 9:30 a.m. yesterday, the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory announced.
At 5:30 p.m. a second flight revealed a flow of pahoehoe, a fluid type of lava, had traveled about 1,000 yards southward.
The observatory warned Royal Gardens residents 4.5 miles downslope to remain alert for the next few days, although it is not clear that there are any permanent residents in the subdivision, which was repeatedly overrun by lava from 1983 to 1986.
In recent years the main means of reaching the subdivision has been by motorcycle over former flows or a private helicopter.
Another pahoehoe flow traveled "a few hundred meters" to the north, toward an unpopulated area.
The outbreak of the July 21 vent on that date interrupted 17 years of flows from Puu Oo, 1.5 miles upslope to the west, which had predictably moved downslope through uninhabited areas to the sea.
Flows from the vent eventually created a deep channel, like a river with high banks. At the end of the channel, flows fanned out in many directions, changing almost daily, and only going a few miles before petering out.
But authorities were quietly concerned that flows could eventually threaten populated areas such as Pahoa if they went on long enough, although that might take months or years.
During one recent week the flow pattern developed into a wide arc that pointed mostly away from Pahoa and back toward the sea.
Yesterday's change was noteworthy because the July 21 vent mostly stopped feeding the channel. Instead, the new flows were coming from the banks of the "river."