HERE ON THE BIG ISLAND
By Kelly Moran
Nature Always Wins (Part II)
As if a hurricane in August weren’t enough trouble for the Puna district [see Part I], a new source of trouble arose in September. It seemed to echo the words of an old hymn: “No more water, but the fire next time.”
There are three active volcanoes on the Big Island. Hualalai, in the west, rises above North Kona and South Kohala. The flows from its last eruption, in the early 19th century, are what you drive through on the Queen Ka‘ahumanu Highway. Mauna Loa, the biggest volcano on earth, takes up half of the entire island. It erupted briefly in the 1970s and ‘80s, but hasn’t made much of an impact on the island since the 1920s, when its lava burned through an enormous wedge of South Kona, including what’s now called Hawaiian Ocean View Estates.
But Kilauea is the most active, having been erupting on-and-off for centuries, and in continuous eruption since 1983. Like its neighbors, Kilauea is a “shield” volcano, meaning that its summit does not come to a (stereotypical) point, like Fuji. Rather, it’s a lengthy ridge called a “rift zone,” along which vents can emerge almost anywhere – and do.
1959 Eruption of Kilauea Volcano by Hawaii Volcano Observatory, USGS [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
In 1960, a previously unknown vent at the far end of Kilauea’s East Rift Zone opened up under the village of Kapoho. In the 1970s, lava from vents within Hawaii Volcanoes National Park closed the Chain of Craters road. A couple of times, the road was repaired, but new flows cut through it again and again, and the effort was discontinued. Kilauea eventually wiped out the park’s heiaus and historic sites along the coast, and flowed beyond the park’s boundaries, where it smothered a couple of subdivisions, two famously photogenic black-sand beaches, the spring-fed Queen’s Bath pond, and much of what had been a thriving, mostly native Hawaiian neighborhood called Kalapana.
For the past ten years or so, Kilauea’s most active vent has been under the cinder cone called Pu‘u O‘o. Lava there has tended to pool and puddle close to the vent, making the surface swell, then slowing down and dribbling off in the general direction of the ocean (makai), but stopping far uphill, well short of the coast.
“Puu Oo – Crater Lava pond 1990” by J.D. Griggs – USGS HVO. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons
In early September, though, lava originating at Pu‘u O‘o found (or created) a lava-tube, through which it has since been moving at high speed downhill on the inland side of the East Rift Zone: that is: mauka, into the island, heading toward a rural subdivision and – beyond it – to the little town of Pahoa. (To Be Continued … Read Next, Part 3 of 3)