2018 Eruption of Kilauea Volcano

July 09, 2018

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Photographer: Mila Zinkova 
Summary Author: Mila Zinkova 

The photo above is a snapshot from the recent eruption of the Kilauea volcano on the Big Island of Hawaii. Click on the photo to see a video of this eruption. Kilauea is the most active volcano in the world. It's also the only volcano that's ever been known to erupt in two locations: at its summit and at the East Rift Zone. On April 30, 2018, I was driving Highway 132 near Pahoa and suddenly noticed a strong smell of sulfur in the air. Later I found out that that the smell was caused by the collapse of the Puʻu ʻŌʻō vent. The level of the lava lake on the summit also dropped.

A few days later, on May 3, 2018, the fissures started to open in the East Rift Zone. One by one, more than 20 fissures opened in the ground, first emitting gases and then lava. Fissure eruptions in residential areas have happened before on the Big Island. For example, in 1960, a fissure eruption occurred in Kapoho, very close to where the action is ongoing now. Back then, the Kapoho village was completely destroyed and the lava covered a Japanese cemetery. The 2018 fissure eruption has destroyed more than 600 houses thus far, yet many structures are still standing in close proximity to erupting fissure #8 -- the most active one.

When you watch the video notice how the lava flow goes around some areas. These are kipukas (openings) in the making. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, kipukas are areas of land ranging from several sq m to several sq km, where existing rock of either volcanic or nonvolcanic origin has been surrounded, but not covered, by ongoing lava flows. Surface features of this type are common in Hawaii. A kipuka that protrudes above the surrounding lava field is classified as a steptoe; it results from the branching of a lava stream around a topographic rise. This kind of kipuka can be easily distinguished from the adjacent lava flow because it has older vegetation growing atop it. A kipuka that's lower than the surrounding lava field forms as a result of an irregular lava flow or the merging of lava flows from two distinct streams. Depending on the type of kipukas that's been formed, information about the older rock buried beneath the lava flow can often be determined.