Red-hot lava began cascading over Hawaii’s cliffs early Tuesday morning, sending plumes of smoke skyward as it plunged into the ocean below.
The Big Island’s Kīlauea Volcano has been erupting almost constantly for more than 30 years, but not since 2013 has one of its 2000-degree lava flows made contact with the Pacific – instantly creating new lands on the island’s southern shore.
The fiery flow of lava, dubbed 61G, poses no threat to nearby communities, according to the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory. But visitors are being warned to keep their distance as they admire its remarkable beauty – and not be too emboldened by the fact that they could likely outrun its steady flow toward the ocean.
Lava began erupting from the Puʻu ʻŌʻō vent on May 24, and has been oozing across the costal plains at a rate of about 40 yards per day recently. The lava finger crossed Hawaii Volcanoes National Park’s coastal emergency road in about thirty minutes on Monday afternoon in its final approach to the ocean.
About 200 or 300 people made the 10 mile round-trip hike out to witness the road crossing, and the spectacular plummet of molten lava into the ocean is bound to draw hundreds more spectators, Honolulu's Star Advertiser reports. For those who aren't up for the hike, Shane Turpin, owner of Lava Ocean Tours, told The Hawaii Tribune Herald he could bring tourists in his boat as close to 100 feet from where the lava enters the ocean.
While the transformation of lava into hard, solid rock upon contact with the water is a sight to behold, it presents dangers as well. The interaction between molten lava and rough seas can prove explosive, sending debris flying and releasing particle-laden plumes.
The newly created lands – or lava deltas – may look stable, but the unconsolidated lava fragments supporting them can unexpectedly slide away into the sea, the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory warns.
Streams from the same Pu’u ‘O’o cone of Kīlauea, Hawaii’s most active volcano, proved equally awe-inspiring but much more threatening last year when they approached the town of Pahoa, ultimately destroying only one home, but sending many residents packing. In total, Kīlauea Volcano’s eruptions have claimed 189 buildings, including a Hawaiian temple, or heiau, and the Waha`ula Visitor Center, since the early 1980s.
As Hawaii Volcanoes National Park celebrates its 100th year on August 1, the waterfall of lava bound to steal the spotlight.