Halemaumau Crater on the Big Island offering visitors rare lightshow

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Shane Nelson
Shane Nelson

*logoVisitors planning a trip to the Big Island in the near future should be sure to schedule a stop at the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Not since October 2008 has the view at Halemaumau Crater been so luminous.

"One of the things that is happening is that the crater itself, of course, has gone through many explosive events within that vent, or the cavity that has opened in the floor of Halemaumau Crater," said park ranger Mardie Lane. "So that itself has gotten very large. And the molten rock within that vent is welling up, churning, sloshing, breaking open its crust, and it's creating a glow that is the biggest and brightest since last fall."

Lane said the vent in the crater's floor opened in March 2008 and has been spewing caustic volcanic gases ever since. Elevated vog, or volcanic smog, levels across the islands over the past year have been attributed to the new Halemaumau vent.

"It's the longest eruption in Halemaumau since 1924," Lane said. "So it's already setting and breaking records."

Scientists from the United States Geological Survey have attributed the increased intensity of the vent's glow to the "wispiness of the plume and the relative shallowness of molten lava" over recent weeks.

The overlook at the Jaggar Museum within the park is open 24 hours a day, and since June 5, park rangers have been on duty at the lookout until 8 p.m., providing telescopes, binoculars and information about what is occurring beneath the crater floor.

"I think we're having several hundred more visitors each evening into the park," Lane said. "And visitors that are already here are just staying longer. Last week we actually overflowed the parking at Jaggar."

Lane was quick to point out that the park has been designed with ample parking throughout. Sunset is, of course, the most popular time for viewing the changing colors at the Halemaumau vent, but Lane said visitors who make a sunrise stop won't miss any of the amazing views and are more likely to have the place to themselves.

A little wardrobe planning is also advised.

"It's cold up here," Lane said. "It's 4,000 feet, and a beach towel only goes so far. ... It's a rain forest environment, and the wind can whip about, so you need to think about staying warm, staying dry, bringing your binoculars, bringing layers of clothes, and I think hot chocolate is a really good idea."

Visit www.nps.gov/havo for further details.

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