LAVAFALL

An unstoppable “firehose” of lava in Hawaii shows Earth’s fury as it meets the sea

The Earth’s surface is nothing but a thin crust on a giant ocean of lava. A reminder of this fact usually comes in the form of a natural disaster causing lost lives and billions in property damage, but fortunately not this time. A cliff fall on New Year’s Eve off the coast of Hawaii has opened up a “firehose” of lava that hasn’t stopped since.

When the lava originating from the Kilauea volcano on the Hawaii island falls directly into the ocean, it creates pulsating explosions of steam and lava fragments. Some times the fragments can be thrown back up, going higher than the stream itself.

“I’ve been here nine years,” Matt Patrick of the US Geological Survey (USGS) said, “and I haven’t seen any thing quite like this.”

Such firehoses have happened before, Patrick said, but they are relatively short-lived. That’s because as more and more of the lava cools and becomes rock, it inevitably closes up the opening that created the firehose. This time, however, the firehose isn’t stopping, because the collapse of the sea cliff took off a lot of the accumulated rock.

A firehose usually converts into a lava delta, where small amounts of lava slowly flow and meet the sea. The newest firehose was created when nearly 26 acres of an old lava delta collapsed on Dec. 31 and took with it a big chunk of the sea cliff.

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Scientists from the USGS continue to monitor the situation. On Jan. 25, an aerial survey revealed that the sea cliff behind the firehose seemed vulnerable. Then on Feb. 2, the USGS posted a video showing that the collapse had occurred.

The lava flow from the firehose seems to have slowed down, but such continued collapses mean that it’s likely to go on for some more time. A number of tours that operate on the lava delta have been warned to stay as far away from the lavafall as possible.

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