A Spectacular Sight In Hawaii

Feb 7, 2017 By Renee W, Young Editor
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Our computer screens can show us beautiful images of nature. But to actually witness nature in its full splendor is unforgettable!

Since January, the Kilauea volcano on Hawaii’s Big Island has been attracting visitors, eager to witness the deep-red molten lava spewing into the ocean.

The lava stream has been compared to a ‘fire hose’ due to its intensity, and has been leaking for a month from the Kamokuna ocean entry point. Geologists were right to worry, as sections of a cliff broke apart due to the lava, and the unstable cliff could separate again any time.

A Land Of Volcanoes

Did you know that the Hawaiian islands are constantly growing and have been doing so for millennia? These islands are formed from underground volcanoes that have reached the surface of the ocean.

When lava emerges under the ocean, it immediately cools and forms a crust –  known as “pillow lava”. Oceanic activity usually erodes away the newly formed land (or crust). However, when volcanic activity and buildup is faster than the force of erosion, islands actually get created and survive. 

What gives the Hawaiian islands its distinct shape? Geologists have an explanation. Under the present day Big Island lies a giant hotspot that releases hot magma from within the Earth. The hotspot does not move, but the Pacific plate (on which the islands rest) is moving ever so slightly in the north-west direction. When the continually moving plate eventually carries the island beyond the hotspot, it cuts it off from the magma source. As one island moves away, the next one develops over the hotspot and the cycle is repeated.

Warnings To Visitors

The Kilauea volcano is right above the hotspot where magma from deep within the Earth is spewing to the surface. This lava makes its way to the ocean through 'lava tubes' -- these are hardened channels formed from lava, within which molten lava flows. When this molten lava reaches land's end, it crashes into the cool seawater.

A lava delta is formed when lava falls into seawater, and this is accompanied by steam explosions and debris thrown up in the air. Because of this, tourists and tour boats have been warned against venturing too close to the cliffs. Besides flying chunks, there is also a risk of inhaling hazardous gases. Usually, when sea cliffs collapse, it should block the potentially dangerous lava show. But geologists were surprised. The lava stream returned, alive with the same intensity. For anyone hoping to catch a glimpse, it is still possible. But they have to stay within the designated area.