Deadly 'laze' is rising in enormous plumes around Hawaii -- here's how it forms and what it looks like

Mario Tama/Getty ImagesPeople take photos on a tour boat as steam plumes rise where lava enters the Pacific Ocean, on May 20, 2018 near Pahoa, Hawaii.

Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano isn’t just spewing lava into the air anymore. That lava is flowing into the water, leading to a dangerous concoction called laze.

Laze – a combination of the words lava and haze – is the product of a chemical reaction that happens when molten, 2,140-degree-Fahrenheit lava hits the ocean. The sea water gets boiled, creating a messy mix of hydrochloric acid, steam, and tiny glass particles.

The noxious plumes of laze are extremely dangerous for people to breathe. Hawaii’s civil defence is sounding the alarm to residents, warning that laze can cause lung damage, eye and skin irritation, and even death in serious cases.

Take a look at how it forms and why it’s so hazardous:


Lava began dripping into the water around Hawaii’s Big Island on Saturday and Sunday.

The laze started rising around the same time that the Kilauea volcano eruption claimed its first serious injury: a man sitting on his third-floor porch got lava-bombed and was hospitalized with a shattered leg.


Laze is created when ocean water comes into contact with volcanic heat. The water evaporates, which leads magnesium salts to form and mix with the steam.

Photo by Mario Tama/Getty ImagesSteam plumes rise as lava enters the Pacific Ocean. Laze, a word combination of lava and haze, contains hydrogen chloride, steam, and volcanic glass particles.

“Seawater must be boiled almost completely dry before magnesium salts form,” according to the USGS.


When the salts come in contact with the steam, together they create dangerously corrosive hydrogen chloride. It can be deadly when inhaled in high doses.

Hydrogen chloride can create a fluid buildup in the lungs, called pulmonary edema, which can cause serious chest pain, coughing, and fatigue. Even sniffing a little bit of the gas can irritate your eyes and skin, and make it hard to breathe, according to the Centres for Disease Control.


Laze killed two people in Hawaii in 2000.

Mario Tama/Getty ImagesSteam plumes rise as lava enters the Pacific Ocean after flowing from a Kilauea volcano fissure on Hawaii’s Big Island on May 21, 2018.

The medical examiner concluded that the deadly burns on the 42- and 43-year-old victims were consistent with those from a hot gas or vapour.

Their final cause of death was listed as pulmonary edema, caused by inhaling air from a plume of volcanic laze near the shore.

Source: Wilderness & Environmental Medicine


The heat from lava can boil fish alive in the water and leave them floating on the surface. That sometimes makes a convenient snack for seabirds.

Mario Tama/Getty ImagesSteam and volcanic gases rise as lava enters the Pacific Ocean on May 20, 2018 near Pahoa, Hawaii.

Source: USGS


Laze also includes tiny volcanic glass shards, and the steamy, acidic combination rides away on the wind. USGS geologist Janet Babb warned that laze plumes from the Kilauea eruption could extend as far as 15 miles.

Mario Tama/Getty ImagesLava erupts and flows from a Kilauea volcano fissure towards the Pacific Ocean on Hawaii’s Big Island on May 21, 2018.

Source: Reuters


The USGS says there are other spots around the globe where volcanic lava oozes into the water, including Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean, Montagu Island in the South Atlantic, and Stromboli volcano off the coast of Sicily.

Mario Tama/Getty ImagesA steam plume rises as lava enters the Pacific Ocean near Pahoa, Hawaii on May 20, 2018.

Source: USGS

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