Since May 3, the most active volcano in Hawaii, called Kilauea, has flushed lava and molten rock into a residential area called Leilani Estates, causing 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 the cracks in the ground and shooting up to 100 meters into the air.
Kilauea volcano has been erupting almost nonstop since 1983, according to the United States Geological Survey. That's because it is located 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 the University of Concord. "What we are seeing now is quite normal for Kilauea's activity," she says. But because the eruptions are happening where people live, it's causing a lot of destruction. "It's coming right under the houses of these people"
In the last week, the magma has been traveling through the Eastern Rift Zone, an area where the volcano's rocks are divided, allowing the lava to overflow. Why exactly this is happening is not clear, says Krippner. But the event is "quite significant". The level of lava inside one of Kilauea's craters dropped to about 721 feet (220 meters) below the rim of the crater, according to the USGS. That extra lava is now coming out in the East Rift Zone.
Several cracks, called cracks, have been opened in the area. The cracks appear because the magma is accumulating a lot of pressure underground, causing the earth to fracture and the lava to flow. Fortunately, the lava moves quite slowly, typically at less than 0.62 miles per hour (1 km per hour), says Krippner. But sometimes, it stands out vigorously, creating lava fountains. These eruptions occur because "lava is extremely gaseous," says Krippner. It's like if you shake a can of Coca Cola before opening it: the gas will come out quickly, sounding like thunder.
It is impossible to say how long this last eruption will last, according to Krippner. It could be weeks or even months. (An eruption that began in May 2016 and gave us the spectacular "lava fire hose" early last year) ended a few days ago, says Krippner. Meanwhile, here are some views of the lava fountains, melting rocks that devour cars and streets with smoking cracks. In general, they are a good reminder of how wild and powerful nature can be.
If all these images and videos are not enough, and you want to geek even more, the USGS also keeps some webcams at the top of Kilauea, looking at the vents of the volcano and providing updates 24/7.