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USGS: Threat of Even Larger Steam-Driven Violent Explosion

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) announces that with ash eruptions occurring from Kīlauea’s summit this week, there is a threat of an even larger steam-driven violent explosion. Such an eruption could happen suddenly and send volcanic ash 20,000 feet into the air, threatening communities for miles. USGS and NOAA’s National Weather Service are working together to observe, model and warn the public of hazardous conditions. Here is where you can find the information you need to stay safe.

This photo was taken on Wednesday, May 15, 2018, At 11:05 a.m. Photograph from the Jaggar Museum, Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park, captures an ash plume rising from the Overlook crater. Ash falling from the plume can be seen just to the right side (and below) the plume. (USGS Photo)

Observations and Status of Kīlauea

While the ​USGS Hawai‘i Volcanoes Observatory​ is positioning staff to observe the volcano and best communicate its status and evolution, they rely heavily on the weather forecasts from NOAA. Wind forecasts, ​along with dispersion models such as HYSPLIT,​ are critical in understanding where sulphur dioxide (SO2) and particulate matter (PM2.5) will disperse from fissures and vents to ensure safety of USGS observers, emergency managers and the public.

Ashfall Advisories, Warnings and Current Weather Forecast from Honolulu

On Tuesday, May 15, 2018 the National Weather Service issued the first ever ashfall advisory for Hawai‘i. Forecasters will issue ashfall advisories and warnings when ashfall is a hazard. NOAA predicts where an ash plume will go and how much ash will accumulate using USGS’s ​Ash3d Volcanic Ash Dispersion Model​.

Volcanic Ash Advisories​ and ​Aviation Warnings

Volcanic ash clouds can threaten air traffic by sandblasting windscreens, clogging pitot tubes, and in severe cases, causing jet engines to shut down. NOAA issues volcanic ash warnings to alert pilots to potential ash in the atmosphere and will include volcanic ash in forecasts for airports.

Tips to Stay Safe

During explosive eruptions, volcanic ash can disrupt downwind populations by causing breathing problems, impacting water quality, clogging air filters, shorting out power systems and making transportation difficult.​ If your community is threatened by ash, you are advised to do the following:

  • Seal windows and doors.
  • Protect electronics and cover air intakes and open water sources.
  • Avoid driving as visibility will be reduced and roads may become slippery.
  • Remain indoors to avoid inhaling ash particles unless it’s absolutely necessary to go outside. If you have a respiratory illness, do not go outside.
  • If you must go outside, cover your mouth and nose with a mask or cloth.

University of Hawaii Research Uses Satellites to Predict End of Volcanic Eruptions

Researchers from the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa (UHM) School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology (SOEST) recently discovered that infrared satellite data could be used to predict when lava flow-forming eruptions will end.

Map of 34 volcanoes used to test hypothesis. Modified from Google Maps.

Using NASA satellite data, Estelle Bonny, a graduate student in the SOEST Department of Geology and Geophysics, and her mentor, Hawai‘i Institute for Geophysics and Planetology (HIGP) researcher Robert Wright, tested a hypothesis first published in 1981 that detailed how lava flow rate changes during a typical effusive volcanic eruption. The model predicted that once a lava flow-forming eruption begins, the rate at which lava exits the vent quickly rises to a peak and then reduces to zero over a much longer period of time—when the rate reaches zero, the eruption has ended.

HIGP faculty developed a system that uses infrared measurements made by NASA’s MODIS sensors to detect and measure the heat emissions from erupting volcanoes—heat is used to retrieve the rate of lava flow.

Mt. Etna from space. Credit: NASA & US/Japan ASTER Science Team.

“The system has been monitoring every square kilometer of Earth’s surface up to four times per day, every day, since 2000,” said Bonny. “During that time, we have detected eruptions at more than 100 different volcanoes around the globe. The database for this project contains 104 lava flow-forming eruptions from 34 volcanoes with which we could test this hypothesis.”

Once peak flow was reached, the researchers determined where the volcano was along the predicted curve of decreasing flow and therefore predict when the eruption will end. While the model has been around for decades, this is the first time satellite data was used with it to test how useful this approach is for predicting the end of an effusive eruption. The test was successful.

Erupting Piton de la Fournaise volcano. Credit: U.S. Geological Survey.

“Being able to predict the end of a lava flow-forming eruption is really important, because it will greatly reduce the disturbance caused to those affected by the eruption, for example, those who live close to the volcano and have been evacuated,” said Bonny.

“This study is potentially relevant for the Hawai’i island and its active volcanoes,” said Wright. “A future eruption of Mauna Loa may be expected to display the kind of pattern of lava discharge rate that would allow us to use this method to try to predict the end of eruption from space.”

In the future, the researchers plan to use this approach during an ongoing eruption as a near-real time predictive tool.

Historic and Dramatic Video of Kilauea Erupting in 1959

I just noticed this YouTube clip someone posted earlier today of Kilauea Erupting in 1959.

It was uploaded by YouTube user Drakemirow so excuse the rather bizarre soundtrack that accompanies the video:
[youtube=http://youtu.be/kaK1ea3umn8]

Lava Flowing Into Ocean Creates Funnel Clouds and Lightning Down in Kalapana

This video was taken down in Kalapana on the Big Island in 2008.

You can clearly see funnel clouds and lightning being created by this eruption.

[youtube=http://youtu.be/8DwxnyP1O_M]