Kilauea Volcano's Puu Oo cone, the conduit
of nearly uninterrupted lava flows for more than two decades,
stopped spattering this week when the magma stored 37 miles below
the earth began to meander, setting off seismic tremors and
threatening to end its fiery show forever.
The series of
more than 250 earthquakes that have shaken the ground and buildings
in and around Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island
since June 17 have decreased in frequency to fewer than 10 an hour,
but officials at the Big Island's biggest natural attraction have
other problems on their minds, not the least of which are visitor
safety and how much access visitors should have to the
"appear to be settling down," said park ranger Mardi Lane. "There
still remains some activity but on a much lower scale."
That is to say,
Kilauea isn't finished. The latest risk to visitors is toxic
levels of sulfur dioxide" are venting from the volcano's Halemaumau
crater and from three new
fissures that opened up eight miles southeast of the crater,
according to Jim Gale, chief of interpretation for the park.
Halemaumau is a relatively small crater inside the massive Kilauea
caldera. The fissures oozed lava for several hours on Tuesday and
then began emitting volcanic acids.
Volcano Observatory reported on Wednesday concentrations of sulfur
dioxide greater than 10 parts per million (ppm) in a broad area
adjacent to Halemaumau. Anything higher is toxic, according to the
International Volcanic Health Hazard Network. Park policy dictates
that the Visitor's Center and Jaggar Museum close when
concentrations exceed 1 ppm.
have good trade winds," Gale said, "so all the sulfur dioxide
that's coming up from the magma below the Halemaumau crater is
being blown away from the Visitor's Center and the Jaggar
A smell like
burnt matches fills the air, he said, and the dark sky above the
normally glowing Puu Oo cone tells the story. The long-active vent,
part of the tube system that brings magma from the Puu Oo crater to
the surface in a fiery glow, started collapsing into itself as the
crater floor began to fall. Reports Wednesday were that the
deflation has stopped.
manifestations is the shifting of the magma that lies beneath the
ground, essentially draining the crater of the stuff lava is made
of and denying visitors the view of a continuously erupting
volcano, which has been erupting for more than 20 years, comes back
to life, is uncertain, according to Gale. In a 1997 eruption, magma
rose as steam, pressure was released, and, after a pause of 35
days, Kilauea erupted again.
indicates that the plumbing system for Kilauea volcano is alive and
well," Gale said. "We don't know. We'll just have to wait and
warding people off from visiting the park, the unusual seismic
activity is attracting tourists and locals, Gale said.
"They still come
because of this opportunity to see the most powerful forces on
earth. To be here when this activity is going on is a great thing,"
he said. "We have rangers inside the park explaining what's going
As of late
Wednesday, much of the park remained open to visitors, including
most of Crater Rim Drive, Mauna Loa Road and trails, the Kilauea
Visitor Center, the Jaggar Museum, the Thurston Lava Tube,
Namakanipaio Campground, the Volcano House hotel, Kilauea Military
Camp and the Volcano Art Center Gallery.
to the park, are the southern portion of Crater Rim Drive from
Jaggar Museum to Chain of Craters Road due to the "extraordinarily
high concentrations of sulfur dioxide gas issuing from Kilauea's
summit caldera;" Chain of Craters Road, which has been closed since
Sunday; Hilina Pali Road; and the Halemaumau Trail, which closed
Wednesday. Halemaumau Trail extends from the Volcano House hotel to
the Halemaumau crater. Also closed are the park's eastern boundary
in the Puna district near Kalapana; all east rift and coastal
trails; and Puu Oo Trail.
Hawaii's youngest volcano and one of the world's most active. More
than 90% of Kilauea's surface is covered by lava less than 1,100
years old. In historical time, all of Kilauea's eruptions have
occurred either in or near its summit caldera, or along the east or
southwest rift zones.
reporter Margaret Myre, send e-mail to[email protected].