With Kilauea continuing to rumble, residents there are filled with more uncertainty than not, and some are even beginning to wonder if life as as they knew it will ever be attainable again. Sadly, geologists and vulcanologists monitoring the situation, don’t have much in the way of good news to offer.
If Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano blows its top in the coming days or weeks, as experts fear, it could hurl ash and boulders the size of refrigerators miles into the air, shutting down airline traffic and endangering lives in all directions, scientists say.
“If it goes up, it will come down,” said Charles Mandeville, volcano hazards coordinator for the U.S. Geological Survey. “You don’t want to be underneath anything that weighs 10 tons when it’s coming out at 120 mph.”
Before it started leaking lava last week, the lava lake in the crater atop Kilauea had ballooned like a Jiffy Pop bag due to the tremendous pressure from an expanding pool of magma and accompanying volcanic gas.
Earthquakes triggered the “popping” of this balloon, sending lava slowly cascading down the east side of the mountain and causing numerous pockets of vapor to shoot out of the ground.
With the inner pressure eliminated, the crater rapidly settled back down and dropped a whopping 722 feet.
That may sound like good news, but vulcanologists are giving out warnings of what may be coming next.
Live Science writes that the precipitous drop of the crater has brought it very close to the water table level on the island. If and when the hot magma bed comes into contact with the water, violent eruptions of steam explosions, or phreatic explosions as they are called, will take place.
Such an event is concern enough, but when the bowl-like depression of a crater is filled with rocks and massive boulders, like Kilauea, it means that the steam bursts could act like a cannon and fire off enormous chunks of rock up into the air only to crash down far from its launch site.
In fact, the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory stated on May 9 that there are 10-ton boulders strewn about.
“When you remove that support from the conduit and the crater, it causes instability and causes material to fall in,” Matt Patrick, a geologist with Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, said at the news conference.
Besides the boulder shower, the explosions will also vent out large quantitites of ash, sulfur dioxide and acid rain.
Vulcanologists believe that such an explosion could occur in mid-May.
“Past explosive eruptions at Kilauea have been comparatively small on a worldwide scale,” Don Swanson, a geologist with the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, said. “We don’t anticipate there being any wholesale devastation or evacuation.”
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