The International Information Center for Geotechnical Engineers

Monday, 14 May 2018 01:00

Hawaii’s Big Island: The opening of 3 new fissures raises fears for an ‘explosive eruption’

Boulders as big as refrigerators could be tossed a half-mile, and ash plumes could soar as high as 20,000 feet spread over a 12-mile area, according to Hawaii Civil Defense

It was on May 3rd, when the Kilauea volcano erupted, sending 2,200-degree lava bursting through cracks into backyards in the Leilani Estates neighborhood and destroying 36 structures, including 26 homes. Since then, it has been spewing lava and high levels of sulfur dioxide gas into communities, leading officials to order 1,700 to evacuate, while a magnitude-6.9 earthquake also rocked the Big Island as the magma shifted underground.

18 fissures have been reported till Sunday May 13th, according to the Civil Defense Emergency System for the County of Hawaii, with the last 3 being spotted during the weekend. Fissure 16 and 17 were about a half-mile apart, and fissure 16 produced a lava flow that traveled about 250 yards before stalling about 2:30 p.m., the geological survey said. The last reported fissure was about a mile east of the Puna Geothermal Venture plant, from where 60,000 gallons of the highly flammable chemical fuel pentane had already been removed due to safety concerns. According to the Centers for Disease Control, pentane is prone to explosions and spills can cause serious health problems including respiratory distress and vomiting.

In addition to the new fissures, scientists from the US Geological Survey's (USGS) Hawaiian Volcano Observatory warned about the possibility of an explosive eruption at the volcano's Halema’uma’u Crater because of the ongoing withdrawal of lava from the Kilauea summit lake. "This could generate dangerous debris very near the crater and ashfalls up to tens of miles downwind," the warning said. 

The danger comes from the fact that the lava level is dropping inside the volcano. When that lava lake meets the ground water level - which is most likely to happen sometime in the next few weeks, water will pour onto the lava, generating steam. This could lead to a series of powerful steam explosions, unleashing torrents of molten rock, ash and toxic gases. "If an explosion happens, there's a risk at all scales," said Donald Swanson, a USGS volcanologist, adding that "If you're near the crater, within half a mile, you could be subject to ballistic blocks weighing as much as 10 or 12 tons. " If you're within several miles, you could be within range of smaller rocks the size of marbles, and 20 miles downwind "you would see fine ash floating from the sky like snow."

Source: CNN, USA today, ScienceAlert


Read 495 times Last modified on Monday, 14 May 2018 15:30


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