Hawaii's Massive Volcano Eruption Has No End in Sight

Researchers have compared seemingly unstoppable lava flows to leaking pipes with no end in sight.

Hawaii's Kilauea volcano has erupted, and it's not showing any signs of stopping. On Tuesday, it is reported that the lava has destroyed 36 structures since it started leaking last week. 

It was enough to leave the residents of Leilani Estates, Hawaii fleeing the area through cracked and burning streets with no idea as to when they could return home. 

Researchers continue to monitor the lava's movement, but presently, scientists don't have a firm grasp as to when this will end. 

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"We can't really peer through the ground and see it exactly in all its details and intricacies," NOAA volcanologist Bill Chadwick told NPR. "It could last days, weeks, years. All that's possible. It's hard to say, unfortunately."

The most recent volcanic activity actually started over 30 years ago, as the Kilauea has been in the process of erupting for that entire time. However, last week's issues started when the Pu'u O'o crater's lava levels started rising. 

Wendy Stovall, a volcanologist with the United States Geological Survey, described the process as "inflating like a balloon, because magma was getting backed up from below." 

This latest leak started when the floor of the lava lake within the volcano's summit collapsed.

"The whole bottom of the crater floor dropped out and the magma completely drained away from that system," Stovall said.

This led to the contents to get pushed through Kilauea's system. The real question is what caused the reservoir to give way.

According to Stovall, "either there's an increase in magma supply, or something blocked the system, something blocked the pathway out of the system."

While scientists still don't haven't identified the root cause, the resulting earthquakes have certainly been felt -- including one 6.9 quake that hit Friday and became Hawaii's most powerful since 1975.

Right now, researchers say, the fissures seem to be the biggest threat to public safety. There aren't any clear signs as to where these ruptures (complete with lava flows and toxic gases) could pop up.  

"It's like a leaky pipe or a burst pipe, where the magma is moving down the conduit system and it just reaches a point where the pressure builds enough that you start cracking the surface above," volcanologist Erik Klemetti from Denison University told NPR.

"When a house today might look like it's perfectly safe, it might get taken out by a lava flow five years from now if the eruption keeps on going."

The chances of the volcano's explosive summit eruption were high enough to close Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. No one lives in the area surrounding the summit crater, but preparations are still being made for an explosive event. The Hawaii Volcanoes National Park houses the crater and the surrounding region. Authorities also recently ordered 2,000 residents to leave their homes in the Puna district, however, some residents have opted to stay behind to watch over their property and prevent their homes from being looted. 

Interesting Engineering will keep updating this story as more information becomes available. 

Via: NPR