Lava views improve, but beware bench collapse

View of the East Lae`apuki bench from the west.The sunny days we have been having lately are a welcome relief from the seemingly endless rains that dominated the skies earlier this year. With the improved weather, more people are driving down to the end of the Chain of Craters Road in Hawai`i Volcanoes National Park to get a glimpse of active lava. One of the main destinations is the ocean entry at East Lae`apuki, where lava, traveling through a lava tube from Pu`u `O`o, pours into the ocean. After being closed to visitors for nearly a year, the coastal plain adjacent to the ocean entry was reopened in early June. Significant hazards related to lava bench collapses still exist, however, and the National Park Service has erected a rope barricade to keep visitors from approaching too closely.

In spite of the barricade, countless tourists over the last several weeks have chosen to tempt fate by crossing the rope line. A number of them even walked down onto the active bench itself by way of a steep, rocky ramp at the western edge. This ill-advised trip can no longer be repeated, however, because the bench at the base of the ramp no longer exists.

Last weekend, at 12:47 p.m. on July 30, a 5-10-acre chunk of the west side of the East Lae`apuki bench broke off and fell into the water. This was a relatively small collapse, comprising, at most, 15 percent of the 60-acre bench. But it still bombarded the older lava delta and sea cliff on the western side of the bench, sending spatter and rock debris up to about 40 m (130 ft) inland-nearly half the distance to the rope barricade.

There was no warning before this collapse, which lasted only a few minutes. Anyone caught on that part of the bench would have been unable to escape. The lesson? Heed the warnings and stay behind the ropes. They are there for a reason. If you really must see lava up close and personal, you have other options.

For the last several weeks, the “Campout” flow has been creeping across the coastal plain east of the East Lae`apuki ocean entry. In recent days, it picked up steam and made rapid progress toward the coast near Ka`ili`ili-the site of an ocean entry early last year. As of August 2, the flow was within about 370 m (1,215 ft) of the ocean, making slow but steady progress.

To get to the Ka`ili`ili area requires a long, strenuous hike from the end of the Chain of Craters Road-a distance of about 7 km (4.3 miles). It is recommended only for strong hikers with the proper gear and lots of water. The reward at the end, however, may be quite satisfying.

Activity update

Eruptive activity at Pu`u `O`o continues. On clear nights, glow is visible from several vents within the crater. Lava continues to flow through the PKK lava tube from its source on the flank of Pu`u `O`o to the ocean, with surface flows breaking out of the tube at the 2,300-2,200-ft elevation. The most persistent of these is the “Campout flow,” which reached the coastal plain several weeks ago. On August 2, the terminus of this flow was approximately 370 m (1,215 ft) from the ocean at Ka`ili`ili.

Lava is still entering the ocean at East Lae`apuki, in Hawai`i Volcanoes National Park. The lava bench continues to grow following the major collapse of November 28 and is now approximately 1,100 m (3,600 ft) long by 350 m (1,150 ft) wide, with a total surface area of about 24 ha (60 acres).

Access to the sea cliff near the ocean entry is closed, due to significant hazards. The National Park has reopened the surrounding area, however. If you visit the eruption site, check with the rangers for current updates, and remember to carry lots of water when venturing out onto the flow field.

Seven earthquakes beneath Hawai`i Island were reported felt during the week ending August 2. The first, which occurred at 10:03 a.m. on July 27, was the magnitude-4.4 earthquake located about 20 km (12 mi) southeast of Kaho`olawe at a depth of 31 km (19 mi). The second, at 9:36 a.m. on July 28, had a magnitude of 3.0 and was located 6 km (3 miles) north of Ka`ena Point at depth of 9 km (6 mi). On July 29 there were two earthquakes: a magnitude-2.5 event at 5:01 a.m., 5 km (3 mi) west of Kilauea’s summit at a depth of 7 km (4 mi); and a magnitude-2.7 event at 10:36 a.m., 6 km (4 mi) south of Volcano at a depth of 29 km (18 mi). The last three felt quakes occurred on August 2: a magnitude-2.2 quake at 8:32 a.m., 4 km (2 mi) south-southwest of Kilauea’s summit at a depth of 3 km (2 mi); a magnitude-3.0 quake at 9:17 a.m., 10 km (6 mi) west of Waiki`i at a depth of 23 km (20 mi); and, lastly, a magnitude-2.7 event at 9:46 a.m., 2 km (1 mi) south-southeast of Kilauea’s summit at a depth of 1 km (0.6 mi).

Mauna Loa is not erupting. During the past week, no earthquakes were recorded beneath the volcano’s summit. Extension of distances between locations spanning the summit, indicating inflation, continues at slow rates.

This article was written by scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey’s Hawaii Volcano Observatory and is republished by with permission.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *