Hawaii’s latest eruption is so large that the lava flows can be seen from space.
Mt. Kilauea on the big island of Hawaii has technically been erupting for years--since 1983, to be exact. Lava flows have been heading down the large shield volcano every few years with nearly 500 acres of land added to Hawaii’s landmass.
On May 3rd, however, things took a dangerous turn. New fissures opened up in the lower Puna area near the residential neighborhood of Leilani Estates. Lava fountains flew as high as 300 feet into the air, and toxic gases were released requiring the evacuation of 2,000 local residents.
By May 25th, over 20 new fissured had erupted and were spewing lava constantly. By June 4th, 117 structures were reported destroyed by the Hawaii Civil Defence Force, with many of them being people’s homes. A grand total of 8.2 square miles had been covered in lava, destroying everything that it touched.
One fissure in particular, numbered 22 by geologists, was large enough to reach the southeastern coast of Hawaii, entering the ocean from near MacKenzie State Park. Satellite imagery from NASA actually showed that the lava flow was large enough to be seen from outer space.
The above image was taken from Operational Land Imager (OLI) on Landsat 8 on May 23rd. It was cloudy that day, but a break in the clouds allowed for the image to be taken. The image was taken in infrared but has had its colors altered so that it’d be more plainly visible.
You can see the clear glowing streaks as they arc toward the Pacific Ocean. The purple haze that seems to surround the flow is not toxic gases but actually clouds that are being lit from below by the glowing molten rock.
Geologists can get a vague idea of the where the lava will flow, but they have no idea when the current geologic activity will end, or even if it will ever end. This southern area of Hawaii may simply be uninhabitable for the foreseeable future.
For the best up-to-the-minute information on the Hawaiian eruption, check out the Hawaii Civil Defence Force page here.