A volcanic eruption in Hawaii has destroyed more than 36 structures and forced thousands of people to evacuate.
But things could get worse, according to the United States Geological Survey. There’s potential for Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano to propel gigantic boulders into the sky, spew noxious gases like sulphur dioxide, and cause acid rain to fall over Hawaii’s Big Island if its eruption intensifies.
A new fissure opened on Sunday, spraying magma chunks over 100 feet in the air and spewing lava into surrounding forests and residential neighbourhoods.
USGS geologists are closely monitoring the volcano. Forceful eruptions occur when magma (or underground lava) sinks to the water table. When the water and magma mix, it creates steam, which builds pressure below the Earth. All that pressure can blow, flinging massive boulders, ash, and lava into the air.
While eruptions are difficult to predict, the lava lake on top of Kilauea’s main summit is quickly sinking – a sign that a big eruption may be coming, according to the USGS.
Kilauea has been continuously erupting for years, but the action got significantly more disastrous in recent weeks. New fissures and flowing lava have caused severe damage in residential communities located near the crater. The lava first flowed into residential neighbourhoods last week, but geologists have been sounding the alarm that the eruption may get worse.
President Donald Trump declared a major disaster on the Big Island, making federal financial assistance available to state and local governments as they repair roads, public parks, schools, and water pipes damaged by the eruption.
Here’s what the area looks like.
Geologists have been closely monitoring the crater on Kilauea’s summit in the hope of predicting when more intense outbursts will occur.
When the level of the lava in the crater plummets, as geologists are seeing on Kilauea, that can be a sign that explosions of ash and steam could follow.
The level of the lava lake in Kilauea’s summit crater has fallen over 220 meters in recent days, indicating an explosion is likely.
Residential neighbourhoods near Kilauea’s crater have been hit particularly hard.
The volcanic activity causes rifts, or fissures, to open in the ground around the crater, leading lava to spew out into residential neighbourhoods.
Lava flows have destroyed houses, blocked roads, and even downed power lines.
But the lava isn’t the only concern. Volcanic rifts in the ground spew noxious fumes, like sulphur dioxide, which can cause lung infections. Children and seniors are particularly at risk.
On Wednesday, the 15th rift caused lava to flow into a residential neighbourhood.
When there’s precipitation in the forecast, sulphur dioxide can also cause acid rain, when the moisture in the air mixes with the gas.
Acid rain is rainfall that’s made acidic by atmospheric pollution like sulphur dioxide. It can kill plants and animals and degrade infrastructure.
New rifts are opening around the crater on an almost daily basis.
The newest fissure opened up over the weekend, bringing the total number of fissures to 17.
That new fissure is located near Hawaii’s Puna Geothermal Venture power plant, putting it at risk of destruction.
Lava pouring out of the new fissure shows no signs of slowing as of Monday morning.
In some areas, the lava is piled over 40 feet thick.
Residents are allowed to access their homes during the day, but authorities have warned that they should be ready to flee at a moment’s notice.
Around 1,700 people still cannot sleep in their homes, according to CNN. Smoke and other noxious fumes also continue to make conditions in the area dangerous.
It will take a long time for local neighbourhoods to recover from the damage.
President Donald Trump declared a major disaster on the Big Island, making federal financial assistance available to state and local governments as they attempt to respond to and recover from the eruption.
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