Lava Flows and Sulfur Dioxide Threaten Leilani Estates on Kilauea

By Erik Klemetti | May 6, 2018 2:01 pm
Lava fountains from the new fissure eruption at Leilani Estates on Kilauea, seen on May 5, 2018. USGS/HVO.

Lava fountains from the new fissure eruption at Leilani Estates on Kilauea, seen on May 5, 2018. USGS/HVO.

The new eruption far on the East Rift zone of Kilauea is continuing. The latest count has at least 10 fissure vents erupting (see below) on the east side of Leilani Estates and more cracks in the ground, some releasing copious sulfur dioxide gas. The lava flows coming from the fissures vents that are intermittently erupting has destroyed at least 5 homes UPDATE: destroyed up to 31 homes and lava fountains reached as high 70 meters (215 feet) — you can watch some of the impressive footage of the eruption below. All of the Leilani Estates subdivision has been evacuated with little idea when residents might be permitted back into their homes.

UPDATE 8:00 PM EDT: ABC News just tweet some stunning video of the eruption today. Long lava flows and lava spattering from the fissures — right in the middle of neighborhoods. Amazing and tragic.

Lava flows blocking the road in Leilani Estates on Kilauea, seen on May 5, 2018. USGS/HVO.

Lava flows blocking the road in Leilani Estates on Kilauea, seen on May 5, 2018. USGS/HVO.

UPDATE: The lava flow from fissure 8 (see map below) has now travelled over 1.2 kilometers and more steaming cracks have opened near fissure 8 and 9.

In some of the most stunning video, you can see a fissure erupting in the middle of an area of homes. These vents could be active for weeks-to-months, so many of these homes could be inundated with lava. This part of Hawaii is by no means wealthy, so the stakes are high for the people who live in Leilani Estates — many of which may not be able to just “pick up and leave”.

Video by Mick Kalber, Vimeo

However, it is the sulfur dioxide gas that is the real danger to people, as the concentrations being emitted are high enough to kill someone — the sulfur dioxide combines with water in your lungs and throat to form sulfuric acid! The sulfur dioxide plume has been mapped from the Suomi-NPP satellite, spreading to the southwest of the eruption.

Up at the summit of Kilauea, the floor of the Halema’uma’u Caldera has dropped 10 centimeters (~4 inches) since April 23 and the lava lake in the caldera as seen a drop of 128 meters (518 feet) in a little less than a week! All the eruptions at Pu’u O’o have ceased, including the formerly active 61g lava flow field, so it seems that the most active part of the volcano is the new Leilani Estates eruption, at least for now. UPDATE: As of Monday May 7, the summit lava lake had dropped 220 meters (722 feet) at an astonishing 2 meters per hour!

This eruption is reminiscent to the 2014 activity at Fogo in the Cape Verde Islands. That island hotspot volcano (much like Kilauea) produced lava flows that destroyed multiple towns. Lava flows are nearly unstoppable as a volcanic hazard, with only some success in diverting flows at Heimaey in Iceland during the 1973 and around Etna in Italy. In all cases, people were able to get out of harm’s way, but structures were destroyed by the advancing lava.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Rocky Planet, Science, Science Blogs
  • OWilson

    We haven’t learned much since Pompeii!

    Folks still build in the most dangerous places. Perched on cliffs, the sides of volcanoes, river deltas, beaches and sand spits. On known earthquake fault lines like in San Francisco, L.A. and Anchorage, Alaska.

    Dirt poor people sometimes have no choice, and I sympathise with them.

    But I can’t get too excited about million dollar homes sliding down cliffs, being washed away by tide surges, or molten magma coming down the hill!

    • Shoot4themoon

      Where is a “safe” spot to build? Because nature is everywhere and violence and destruction are a vital part of nature, so there really isn’t a place that’s safe. Especially as the human population continues to grow.

      • whheydt

        The Laurentian Shield…so long as you don’t mind blizzards.

      • OWilson

        Where NOT to build is more to the point.

        You can reduce your odds considerable by avoiding earthquake faults, cliffs, drained swamps, volcanoes. sand spits, barrier islands, beside mighty rivers, and of course place named Tornado Alley! :)

        • Shoot4themoon

          so that leaves……?

    • mjkbk

      This IS Hawaii we’re talking about. You DO realize that a “million-dollar home” THERE is more than likely a shack, right?

      Just as a “million-dollar home” in California is typically a tract home in the ‘burbs.

      Hardly qualify as abodes of “the wealthy”.

      • OWilson

        I was referencing the location given in the article.
        The Leilani Estate that they built in a volcanic island.

        Do a Google Street view of the development. Big lots, nice houses, average price a quarter to half a $million. (before the latest activity)

        These folks definitely DID have a choice!

        Some people! :)

  • Uncle Al

    Erect an invincible barrier of Enviro-whiners chained together and brandishing strongly worded petitions. Add a Crying Room.

  • whheydt

    CBS News has this article up. It’s rather disjointed and reporter obviously doesn’t have a firm grasp on the information he’s been given. On the other hand, it does have a quote from Dr. Klemetti.


Rocky Planet

Rocky Planet covers all the geologic events that made and will continue to shape our planet. From volcanoes to earthquakes to gold to oceans to other solar systems, I discuss what is intriguing and illuminating about the rocks beneath our feet and above our heads. Ever wonder what volcanoes are erupting? How tsunamis form and where? What rocks can tell us about ancient environments? How the Earth might change in the future? You'll find these answers and more on Rocky Planet.

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