Scientists: Major Volcanic Burst Possible in Hawaii

10 May, 2018

Hawaii's Kilauea volcano could soon send huge rocks and ash shooting out of its summit crater. The last time this happened was almost 100 years ago.

Scientists say the risks of a forceful summit burst will rise in the coming weeks.

Kilauea has destroyed 36 structures — including 26 homes — since it began releasing lava from vents, or openings in the ground. There are now 15 vents spread across the Pahoa area of Hawaii's Big Island.

Tina Neal is a scientist-in-charge at the Hawaiian Volcanoes Observatory. She said the lava lake looks similar to conditions seen before a major summit eruption in 1924. That explosion killed one person and sent rocks, ash and dust into the air for 17 days.

This could happen again, scientists say, once the summit lava lake drops so low that groundwater can flow into the channel that feeds magma to the crater. The magma would heat the water and create steam. This would push out rocks that have collected there.

Don Swanson is another scientist with the Observatory. He said the magma is likely to drop below the water level around the middle of May. Scientists do not know how long it would be after that for an explosion to take place.

"We suspect it's a rapid process," Swanson told reporters on a conference call.

Visitors take pictures as Kilauea's summit crater glows red in Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii, Wednesday, May 9, 2018.
Visitors take pictures as Kilauea's summit crater glows red in Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii, Wednesday, May 9, 2018.

No one lives in the immediate area of the summit crater. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, which includes the crater and surrounding area, announced that it would close Friday ahead of the possible explosive event.

Cindy Wood was visiting the national park from Canada. "It seems pretty safe to me right now but they'd know best," she told the Associated Press. "We don't know what's going on underground. Life and safety is what's most important."

Earlier this month, officials ordered nearly 2,000 people to leave the neighborhoods around the vents. But some ignored the order and stayed to watch over their property.

Some have refused to follow orders to leave because of fears their property would be robbed.

I'm Caty Weaver.

The Associated Press reported this story. Ashley Thompson adapted it for Learning English. Hai Do was the editor.


Words in This Story

summit - n. the highest point of a mountain : the top of a mountain

crater - n. the area on top of a volcano that is shaped like a bowl

lava - n. melted rock from a volcano

vent - n. an opening through which air, steam, smoke, liquid, etc., can go into or out of a room, machine, or container

magma - n. hot liquid rock below the surface of the Earth

channel - n. a path, tube, or long narrow place where water flows

rapid - adj. happening in a short amount of time