The Pu`u `O`o vent on Kilauea is where all the action is. But it’s also a notoriously hard spot to get to. Even if you’re cleared to visit, you have a day-long hike to prepare for, or an expensive helicopter transport if you need to bring equipment. But recently, scientists have installed a video camera on the north rim of the crater, and are now making near-live images from the active crater available on the web.
Pu`u `O`o the spot where lava from deep within the earth finally reaches the surface is a tough place to get to, for both the general public and also for Hawaii Volcano Observatory (HVO) scientists. Pu`u `O`o is also treacherous: an unstable crater rim, cracks, lava flows and spatter, strong sulfurous gases, whiteouts… all these hazards and more have led the national park to close the area to hikers, except those on official business. The only legal way for visitors to see into the crater of Pu`u `O`o is from aircraft.
Yet Pu`u `O`o is clearly where it’s at. It’s the place where magma that’s traveled 100 km (60 miles) or so from the earth’s interior first reaches the surface, or enters the lava tube system at a shallow depth below the surface. The floor of Pu`u `O`o’s crater is really not much more than a roof on a reservoir of magma. Holes through that roof at vents on the crater floor reveal either magma or hot rock heated by magma, often only a few meters (yards) below the surface.
So Pu`u `O`o presents a dilemma: inaccessible and dangerous, yet worthy of close watching.
To this end, a video camera with tilt-pan-zoom capability was installed on the rim of Pu`u `O`o’s crater. The telemetry is a two-way street: images are electronically sent to HVO, and the camera can be controlled remotely from HVO. While the HVO has been using video images of the crater since 1997 for research purposes, only recently have improvements in the quality of the camera and telemetry made it possible to manipulate the camera remotely and to acquire the resolution desirable for some research needs.
And HVO and its cooperative partner, Hawai`i Volcanoes National Park, are now making still images taken by the video camera available for public observation in near real time. Once every 45 seconds, the camera takes images of the crater, panning from east to west. It takes three such images to make a panorama of entire crater.
Every 5 minutes, these images are being posted on the web, with vents and prominent features of the crater floor and walls labeled. At least daily, a text box will be updated to discuss ongoing events in the crater. During significant activity in the crater, the box will carry more frequent accounts of what’s happening.
Our hope is that, eventually, the panorama can be updated on the web site more frequently than every 5 minutes. Server and policy issues have not yet been resolved to the point where this can now be done.
Don’t expect an Oscar-winning performance every day or even every month. The images will often show little, because fume or clouds can hang over all or part of the crater for hours or even days. And, to be honest, most of the time little is happening in the crater except for strong gas release.
Currently you will see several incandescent vents at night or on very dark days, and one of the vents, January Vent, has been putting out small flows every so often. Several of the vents have been known to spatter when the camera is pointed their way.
The camera and telemetry equipment can be expected to fail from time to time. Consequently, there will be periods of days or longer when no images are available. For research purposes, we are anxious to keep the camera operating as continuously as possible, but helicopter availability and time sometimes don’t allow repairs as quickly as we might like. Still, the current system has been operating well for the past 5-6 months, and so we are optimistic. When the camera or telemetry do go down, we will indicate the situation in the text box on the web page.
Eruptive activity at Pu`u `O`o continues. The Banana flow, which breaks out of the Mother’s Day lava tube a short distance above Pulama pali, is entering the ocean off the 2002 Wilipe`a lava delta. The national park has marked a trail to within a short distance of the active lava delta, and thousands have been enjoying the show. In addition, lava has been visible between Pulama pali and Paliuli for the past several weeks. Eruptive activity in Pu`u `O`o’s crater is weak, with sporadic minor spattering.
Two earthquake were reported felt on the island during the week ending July 28. People in Hawai`i Volcanoes National Park felt a magnitude 2.2 earthquake at 5:28 p.m. July 27. It was located 4 km (2.5 miles) southeast of Kilauea’s summit at a depth of 3 km (2 miles). The next day, a magnitude 3.2 earthquake shook Kilauea’s summit at 1:47 p.m. The earthquake, felt at HVO and Volcano golf course, was centered 3 km (2 miles) west of HVO at a depth of 4 km (2.5 miles).
Mauna Loa is not erupting. The summit region continues to inflate slowly. Seismic activity was notably high during the past week, with 21 earthquakes recorded in the summit area. This is the highest number in some time. Most of the earthquakes are of long-period type and deep, about 38 km (23 miles). In a 24-hour period starting at 5:45 a.m. July 25, 12 earthquakes were recorded. Ten of those were deep and two were of a more common shallow type.
This article was written by scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey’s Hawaii Volcano Observatory and is republished by HawaiiNews.com with permission.