The eruption of the Kilauea Volcano on the Big Island of Hawaii which started yesterday afternoon continues today with numerous warnings and advisories. However, the eruption is occurring entirely within the volcano’s summit caldera which is completely within Hawaii Volcanoes National Park; the park remains open to tourists curious to see up-close what an erupting volcano looks like.
“Viewing lava at the summit of Kīlauea is awe-inspiring. During this COVID-19 pandemic, we ask the public to recreate responsibly, maintain social distance and to wear a mask,” said Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park Superintendent Rhonda Loh. “We want to keep the park open for all to experience this new phase of volcanic activity, but we can only do so if visitors follow guidelines that keep everyone safe. We continue to work with USGS scientists to receive the latest volcanic updates, and remind visitors that the eruptive activity and accessibility could change at any time,” Loh said.
While the park is open, there are numerous hazards at and drifting away from the volcano at this hour. The USGS Hawaii Volcano Observatory released this latest hazard assessment about the ongoing eruption: “This new eruption at Kīlauea’s summit is occurring within a closed area of Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park. Therefore, high levels of volcanic gas are the primary hazard of concern, as this hazard can have far-reaching effects down-wind. Large amounts of volcanic gas—primarily water vapor (H2O), carbon dioxide (CO2), and sulfur dioxide (SO2)—are continuously released during eruptions of Kīlauea Volcano. As SO2 is released from the summit, it will react in the atmosphere to create the visible haze known as vog (volcanic smog) that has been observed downwind of Kīlauea. Vog creates the potential for airborne health hazards to residents and visitors, damages agricultural crops and other plants, and affects livestock. ”
Hawaii Volcano Observatory has released this map showing the location of the erupting fissures at the summit of #Kilauea #volcano on the Big Island of #Hawaii. Again, all lava is contained within the caldera and is of NO threat to homes/businesses at this time.#HIwx #eruption pic.twitter.com/eXULpuLOKB
— the Weatherboy (@theWeatherboy) September 30, 2021
While the caldera the eruption is occurring within is off-limits to visitors, trails and scenic vistas around the crater that were open right before the eruption remain open around the clock at this time. While that could change as the eruption evolves and/or winds shift, the National Park remains a relatively safe area to experience the eruption for now.
While visitors are flocking to the volcano, there are various warnings and advisories in effect.
The RED/WARNING alert level remains posted at the volcano. The Volcano Hazards Program Office, through regional groups responsible for volcanoes of concern within their geographic area of concern, is responsible for issuing Aviation Codes and Volcanic Activity Alert Levels. Aviation Codes are green, yellow, orange, or red. When ground-based instrumentation is insufficient to establish that a volcano is at a typical background level of activity, it is simply “unassigned.” While green means typical activity associated with a non-eruptive state, yellow means a volcano is exhibiting signs of elevated unrest above known background levels. When a volcano exhibits heightened or escalating unrest with the increased potential of eruption, it jumps to orange. Finally, when an eruption is imminent with significant emission of volcanic ash expected in the atmosphere or an eruption is underway with significant emission of volcanic ash into the atmosphere, the code becomes red. Volcanic Activity Alert levels are normal, advisory, watch, or warning. As with aviation codes, if data is insufficient, it is simply labeled as “unassigned.” When the volcano is at typical background activity in a non-eruptive state, it is considered normal. If the volcano exhibits signs of elevated unrest above background level, an advisory is issued. If a volcano exhibits heightened or escalating unrest, a watch is issued while a warning is issued when a hazardous eruption is imminent.
The Big Island of Hawaii is shaking, as one would suspect with a new volcanic eruption. This map plots out all quakes in the last 24 hours, w/the red dots showing the latest. Most earthquakes have been under 3.0. And NONE pose any tsunami risk. #HIwx #Kilauea #Eruption pic.twitter.com/4pfGnfhWrM
— the Weatherboy (@theWeatherboy) September 30, 2021
The National Weather Service office in Honolulu on the island of Oahu located west of Hawaii Island where the eruption is, has also issued a Special Weather Statement for volcanic hazards drifting in the air. Yesterday evening, the National Weather Service issued a bulleting warning of the presence of “Pele’s Hair” and volcanic glass near the volcano. Formed when lava is ejected into the air and rapidly cooled, Pele’s Hair is the nickname given to volcanic glass fibers that form and are blown down-wind of a volcano. Similar to fiberglass fibers, these sharp particles can cut skin; if inhaled, they can damage the body, especially the lungs. Winds could carry such hazardous glass particles, along with toxic gas being emitted by a volcano, across great distances. The National Weather Service warns, “Residents and visitors are urged to minimize exposure to volcanic emissions. Those with respiratory sensitives should take extra precaution to minimize exposure.”
Hawaii County Civil Defense is always warning about volcanic matter in the air. “Because the eruption is at the Summit of Kilauea Volcano, the primary hazard is volcanic gas and ash; which can have effects down-wind vog has been observed downwind from Kilauea Volcano,” the agency warns. Vog is volcanic smog created by gasses being emitted by an erupting volcano. “If you experience voggy conditions in your area, limit or suspend outdoor activity. For those with pre-existing respiratory conditions, the safest place is indoors or away from the area experiencing vog. ”
The Washington VAAC is also issuing their own advisories for pilots.The VAAC, short for Volcanic Ash Advisory Center, issues volcanic-related alerts whenever a volcano releases matter into the atmosphere that could compromise air travel. In their last bulletin, the Washington, DC VAAC, which is responsible for bulletins involving volcanoes in Hawaii, says volcanic ash isn’t detected on satellite. However, they note, “Webcam shows abundant steam and gas emissions with possible light volcanic ash emissions and volcanic glass.” Volcanic ash or glass can clog any aircraft’s engine, making flying through it extremely dangerous for aviators.