Visitors Getting too Close for Comfort at Kīlauea’s Lava Flows
By Maui Now Staff
The US Geological Survey’s Hawaiian Volcano Observatory is cautioning the public about the hazards of approaching the ocean entry of Kīlauea’s lava flows too closely, following repeated reports of risky action.
Authorities cited a recent example of kayakers who reportedly paddled just feet from lava entering the ocean, despite recommendations that the public stay at least one-quarter mile from lava entry points.
The same group, agency officials say, allegedly went ashore, walked across new land built by the lava flow, and scooped molten lava with their paddles.
“Their actions were unsafe and cause for grave concern–not to mention, culturally insensitive,” authorities said in the agency’s Volcano Watch newsletter.
In Hawaiian tradition, ancient chants speak of Pele, the volcano goddess and her encounters as she sets out to search for a home.
HVO officials explain the cultural significance of ocean entry points saying it “reflects the tumultuous interactions that occur,” when Pele, “clashes with her sister, Namakaokaha`i, Hawaiian deity of the sea.”
Four deaths related to ocean entry hazards have already occurred at Kīlauea, according to information released by the HVO. “Given the recently observed disregard for these hazards, we fear that tragedy will strike again,” authorities said in the document.
The HVO detailed the extreme conditions and dangers present at volcanic ocean entry points. Information released in the Volcano Watch included the following:
- Lava deltas are described as “extremely unstable.” Authorities say the newly formed land can collapse without warning. According to the HVO, Kīlauea’s largest delta collapse sent 44 acres of new land into the ocean. A much smaller collapse of only 1 square yard, authorities say, can be deadly.
- When a lava deltas collapse does occur, it has the potential to send large chunks of earth long distances. According to the HVO, “rocks the size of a small file cabinet” have been hurled 330 yards, with “fist-sized rocks” thrown as far as one-quarter mile.
- The white plume of smoke produced when lava enters the sea is also considered extremely hazardous. HVO officials describe the smoke as a “corrosive mixture of superheated steam, hydrochloric acid, and tiny particles of volcanic glass.”
“With due diligence, you can safely witness lava entering the sea. Know the hazards. Keep a safe distance from the ocean entry. And, above all, do not be misguided by the risky actions of others,” authorities said.
***Supporting material courtesy Hawaiian Volcanoes Observatory.