Kilauea’s two-part eruption – explosive activity at the summit crater and those fissure effusions on its flanks – can certainly be destructive, especially in the case of the latter. Just recently, a slow-moving lava flow plowed its way through another coastal neighborhood, creating new land as scores of homes were reduced to cinders.
Saying that, it’s hard to deny that it’s aesthetically stunning to watch, just as it’s a fantastic opportunity for the United States Geological Survey (USGS) to learn more about the world’s most active volcano. As part of this process, they’ve been using drones – and one has just flown by Fissure 8, a hyperactive site of nature’s most searing incandescence.
Tapping deep reserves of fresh magma, this gas-rich, fluid lava is being propelled continuously out of this fissure, day and night. Reaching temperatures of around 1,116°C (2,040°F), this is essentially as hot as lava on Earth can get.
At the same time, the fissure is raining down so much fresh volcaniclastic material that it’s building a baby cinder cone, a small volcanic feature, that’s already at least 35 meters (115 feet) high. As the drone footage clearly shows, all this activity is feeding a lava channel, which according to the USGS is flowing east into the devastated Kapoho Bay area.
This lava is streaming into the ocean at multiple points, creating that characteristic laze phenomenon: clouds of hydrochloric acid, water vapor, and small shards of volcanic glass. It’s clearly not a good idea for anybody to breathe this in, but anyone with pre-existing respiratory ailments could be in real trouble if they did. Back in 2000, laze exposure led to the deaths of two people.
Another hazard created by Fissure 8 is Pele’s hair. Named after the volcanic deity that calls Hawaii its home, these thin, vitreous fragments are rapidly cooled lava blebs that have been jettisoned into the air and, as they cool and solidify, get stretched by the wind and their own propagation through the sky.