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Since May 3, Hawaii's most active volcano, called Kilauea, has spewed lava and molten rock into a residential area called Leilani Estates, prompting evacuations and destroying up to 26 homes. The eruption has also provided us with some stunning and terrifying photos and videos of bright orange lava bubbling from cracks in the ground and shooting up to 100 meters into the air.
The Kilauea volcano has been erupting almost without interruption since 1983, according to the United States Geological Survey. That's because it's in a hot spot in the middle of the Pacific plate with high amounts of magma reaching the surface, says Janine Krippner, a volcanologist at Concord University. "What we're seeing now is pretty normal for Kilauea activity," she says. But because the eruptions are happening where people live, it is causing a lot of destruction. "It's coming out right under these people's houses."
In the last week, magma has been traveling through the East Rift Zone, an area where the rocks that make up the volcano are separated, allowing lava to spill out. Why exactly this is happening is unclear, says Krippner. But the event is "quite significant." The level of lava within one of Kilauea's craters dropped to about 721 feet (220 meters) below the crater rim, according to the USGS. That extra lava is now coming out in the East Rift Zone.
Several cracks, called fissures, have been opening in the area. The cracks appear because the magma is building up a lot of pressure underground, causing the earth to fracture and lava to flow. Fortunately, lava moves quite slowly, typically less than 0.62 miles per hour (1 km per hour), says Krippner. But sometimes, it sticks out vigorously, creating fountains of lava. These eruptions occur because "lava is extremely gaseous," says Krippner. It's like shaking a Coke can before opening it: the gas will come out quickly, sounding like thunder.
It's impossible to say how long this latest eruption will last, according to Krippner. It could be weeks or even months. (An eruption that started in May 2016 and gave us the spectacular “lava fire hose” early last year) ended a few days ago, says Krippner. In the meantime, here are some views of lava fountains, melted rocks that devour cars, and streets with smoking cracks. Overall, they are a fitting reminder of just how wild and powerful nature can be.
By Alessandra Potenza
If all these images and videos are not enough, and you want to see even more, the USGS also maintains some webcams on the summit of Kilauea, looking at the volcano vents and providing updates 24/7.