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USGS: Kilauea lava flow northeast of Puu Oo a potential concern

August 22, 2014 - 3:58pm

The June 27th lava flow, named for the date it began erupting, continues to advance to the northeast of Puu Oo on Kilauea’s East Rift Zone. While the lava flow is not an immediate concern to residential areas, Hawaiian Volcano Observatory Scientist-in-Charge Jim Kauahikaua, it could become one in weeks to months if the lava continues to advance.

HVO scientists, who mapped the flow during an flight Friday morning, said the flow was active along two fronts about 6.6 miles northeast of the vent. The northern branch was advancing northeast across fairly flat land, while the southern branch had flowed into a ground crack within the rift zone. By tracing steam from the crack, scientists determined the lava advanced 0.9 miles during the past four days, putting it 2.4 miles from the eastern boundary of the Wao Kele o Puna Forest Reserve.

The difficulty in forecasting the flow’s exact path is that “downhill of the flow” can be affected by subtle variations in topography (shape and features of the ground surface), changes in lava supply (volume increases or decreases), and where and how lava enters or exits ground cracks along the rift zone, scientists said.

Kilauea Volcano’s East Rift Zone eruption began in January 1983. Since then, most lava flows have advanced to the south, reaching the ocean about 75 percent of the time. But the northeast movement of the June 27th lava flow is not unprecedented. Lava flows also traveled northeast of Puu Oo between 1983 and 1986 and for four months in 2007, as well as during the past 19 months, according to the observatory.

The farthest the Kahaualea and Kahaualea 2 lava flows, which were active from early 2013 until June 2014, was 5.5 miles northeast of Puu Oo.

The June 27th lava flow is advancing through a heavily forested area on Kīlauea’s East Rift Zone. This area of the rift zone is hazardous to hikers because of numerous, deep ground cracks that are difficult to see because of the heavy vegetation. Another hazard in the area includes methane explosions that occur when lava flows over vegetated land.

The June 27th lava flow is currently within the Kahaualea Natural Area Reserve, which has been closed by the Hawaii State Department of Natural Land and Resources because of volcanic hazards, and the Wao Kele o Puna Forest Reserve, also closed by DLNR and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs.

HVO continues to closely monitor the June 27th lava flow through increased overflights, satellite imagery, and webcam images, and is keeping Hawaii County Civil Defense fully informed about the flow’s location. The public can track the lava flow activity through maps, photos, and daily eruption updates posted on the HVO website by clicking here. Should the lava flow become an immediate threat to residential areas or infrastructure, HVO will begin posting more frequent updates.