A lava lake on Kilauea Volcano is close to overflowing for the first time since it formed six years ago. A powerful explosion also sent dangerous lava hundreds of feet into the air.

Overlook Crater, which lies inside the larger Halemaʻumaʻu Crater, normally contains the lava lake, which sits around 100 feet beneath its rim. The geological feature first appeared on March 19, 2008. Since that time, the crater has grown in size until it reached 720 feet across.

On April 22, the lava lake began to rise, touching the rim of the crater for the first time on April 28. After that, levels fell until the lava lake sat around 10 feet to 12 feet beneath the rim of the innermost crater.

Visitors began to arrive at the Jaggar Museum Overlook in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park to view the rising body of lava. This was the first time it became possible for observers to see the lake itself, as well as lava spewing over the top of the crater rim.

At 10:20 a.m. HST (4:20 p.m. EDT) on April 28, an explosion from the lava lake hurled large deposits of molten lava onto the rim of Halemaʻumaʻu Crater, 280 feet above the lake's surface. This event was triggered by rocks falling onto the surface of the lake of molten rock. One of these blasts sent lava 325 feet above its starting position.

The Kilauea lava lake is the second-largest in the world, measuring 720 feet long by 560 feet wide. Only the Nyiragongo lava lake in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is larger.

This massive deposit of molten rock constantly swells and shrinks in size, due to the build-up and release of gases within the lava. These changes can be as fast as 165 feet during the course of a day or 65 feet over a single hour.

Visitors are still being allowed to view the geological event (from a distance) at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, although an admittance fee does apply. The view of the eruption is from the opposite side of Halemaʻumaʻu Crater, so visitors are being advised to bring binoculars. They're also reminded they may face heavy traffic and need to walk close to a mile from a parking area because of crowds.

"During the day a robust plume of volcanic gas is a constant and dramatic reminder of the molten rock churning in a lava lake within the crater. After sunset, Halema'uma'u continues to thrill visitors and park staff with a vivid glow that illuminates the clouds and plume (weather permitting)," National Park Service officials are telling visitors.

The Hawaiian Volcano Observatory is operating several webcams displaying live images of the Kilauea volcano in visible and infrared wavelengths.

Although residents of Hawaii are likely safe from this current volcanic activity, it may still be safer to watch the eruption from home online.

Because dangerous sulfur dioxide (SO2) gas and volcanic ash can be blown over Jaggar Museum by southerly winds, the Kilauea Visitor Center offers updates on air quality 24 hours a day. These gases pose a particular danger to people with heart or respiratory problems, young children and pregnant women, the center notes. Visitors also can monitor the Hawaii SO2 network website.

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