The Big Island Flows – An Update

I’ve received more emails asking me one of two questions; am I in danger and/or when will I get close-up photos of the lava event. My previous post has a lot of information and maps so I won’t repeat all that here. 

As I explained there, we’re about 75 miles away from the eruption, so not much danger. As for the other question, there are two kinds of people . . . those who are prudent and stay away from places that are likely to open up under you and ooze lava, and the dead ones. For now, I’m in the first group and there’s no immediate plan to risk immolation no matter how amazing a photo I might get. 

For them who want to keep abreast of fast-developing conditions, THIS news station keeps a decent timetable of events. Obviously, if you’re reading this a few months from now, the link might be a bit out of date. You can also read the Civil Defense Alerts HERE.

That said, news stations on the Mainland and around the world are warning of “ballistic projectiles” weighing several tons being launched by the volcano. 

As it happens, we were at the Halema‘uma‘u Crater a few days ago when it belched ominous dark smoke and ash that made the news and prompted ballistic talk. Regular readers might remember THIS post from one of those visits there. 

I’m a bit annoyed at both the news and the scientists because they are quoted as throwing around the term “ballistic” and, unfortunately, people might associate that with other ballistic projectiles that were in the news not that long ago. 

So, first things first: if you read THIS article, you get somewhat of an idea where all this “ballistic” talk comes from. The scientists were warning of the possibility that if the lava lake in the above crater recedes enough (they think it’s already dropped 800-900 feet or so) it might let water into the tube which would cause a lot of steam. If then rocks continue to drop down the tube and plug it up, the resulting pressure could eventually explode the cap and hurl big rocks on a ballistic trajectory. 

The large dark cloud that spewed out while we were there was the result of rocks from the side of the tube falling into the lava below and exploding (get a pot of water boiling and then quickly dump a bunch of pasta into the boiling water and you’ll get an idea of how that works). 

The normal smoke that comes out of the crater is closer to a bluish-white. When rocks fall into it, the smoke that shoots out is darker because it includes ash. 

Unfortunately, the actual event happened just a few minutes before we parked and got out of the car, so all I got was the dark cloud receding into the distance. 

Now, because the lava level dropped (it’s draining downstream) there’s nothing supporting the sides of the opening and hence rocks dropping into the retreating lava is a regular thing. However, add a bit of an earthquake, and it could be larger chunks might fall in there and yes, it could plug the opening and when pressure begins to build again, you might get a nice lava fountain and stuff ballistically launched. 

That happened many times before with the last one in 2008 and continuing to the present. During those events, “small” rocks (1 ft across) were launched as far as a mile whereas larger rocks didn’t travel that far. 

Let’s talk about “ballistic” for a moment. When you ball up a piece of paper and launch it toward the wastebasket or whenever something is thrown with the idea of making use of gravity to help deliver it to a target, that object is ballistic. Now, true, the term is not often applied to pieces of paper but, essentially, when you toss that paper you are doing the same thing North Korea does when they test their missiles. You impart an initial force and direction and make use of gravity to deliver the object to the intended target. 

In an explosive event, large boulders could be thrown a long way . . . if this was the kind of volcano that exploded. Let’s say it was and we assume a very violent explosion . . . we’re still talking something between 6 and 10 miles, and much less for very heavy boulders (gravity gets quite irate when stuff defies it). 

The Hawaiʻian volcanoes are Shield Volcanoes (they take the shape of the Captain America’s shield; a shallow slope from the top down is formed by fairly liquid and mobile lava). Basically, because the lava takes a long time to cool, it travels a long way and hence the long slopes that are not very steep (relatively speaking). 

In contrast, a Stratovolcano has denser lava with more silica and it tends to harden faster and form caps that can blow with tremendous energy . . . more energy than dumping a pound of pasta into a boiling pot of water. 

So, let’s reiterate; we don’t have explosive volcanoes of the kind that sunk Waponi Woo; any event related to the current volcanic activity on the Big Island would be local to the rift zones; I’m a long way away and not much from that eruption is likely to disturb my sleep. 

HOWEVER . . . if people who know me want to either worry about me or be hopeful I’ll meet my end here, the more likely scenario is THIS or THIS

Meanwhile, I’m still in mild danger of respiratory issues due to the Vog, but barring extreme events, that would take years to develop. Also, if Mauna Loa sends lava toward Hilo again — and this time it doesn’t stop — the port might become unusable and with the danger of running out of Spam, we might be forced to leave the Island. 

Thanks to all who have asked about our safety and health and I hope this was informative and helpful. 

That’s it. This post has ended . . . except for the stuff below.

(Edited to Add)

A few additional links that might be of interest.


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