The lava lake at the summit of Mount Kilauea in Hawaii is already at the highest level recorded since its formation in 2008, and the feature is continuing to rise. This activity is concerning many residents, who fear the current eruption could soon endanger nearby homes and business establishments.
Kilauea is the most active of the five major volcanoes that help form the island chain of Hawaii, and many geologists consider it to be the most active volcano on the planet. The volcano, reaching nearly 4,100 feet above the surface of the ocean, last experienced an explosive eruption on March 19, 2008, the first such event witnessed there since 1924.
On that day, hot rocks blasted from the Halemaʻumaʻu crater, forming a vent on the south side of the crater wall measuring 115 feet from side to side. This event marked the start of the current eruption, during which time the opening has grown in size to form an oval 525 feet wide by 655 feet long. By April 23, 2015, the top of the lava lake was sitting just 70 feet beneath the rim of the basin popularly known as Outlook Crater after rising 20 feet in just 24 hours.
"There was a lot of spattering that visitors are able to see from the Jagger Museum observation deck and also a lot of rumbling sounds as the crater walls heat up and the rocks fall into that roiling lava lake below," Jessica Ferracane, spokesperson for Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, said.
For now, tourists are gathering at the Jagger Museum near the crater to witness the majestic views offered by the rising lake bed. However, at the current rate at which the lava is rising, the molten rock could soon engulf the facility. Fortunately for operators, levels at the lava lake have risen and fallen over the last seven years, suggesting the molten rock may not be an immediate danger.
"The active lake of lava within the vent produces an impressive nighttime glow, but also continuously emits sulfur dioxide gas that results in 'vog' (volcanic smog) that can impact downwind communities," the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory reports.
The Kilauea volcano started to rise off the ocean floor somewhere between 300,000 and 600,000 years in the past and broke above the surface of the water roughly 100,000 years ago.
Geologists studying the volcano are carefully recording changes in the lava lake, including gas emissions, to determine what dangers the volcano may pose to local residents. They also hope that by studying how the seven-year eruption is changing over time, they can learn more about the inner workings of the highly active volcano.