HAWAII VOLCANOES NATIONAL PARK, BIG ISLAND (HawaiiNewsNow) - Thousands of people are drawn to the creation of new land on the Big Island of Hawaii, courtesy of Kilauea Volcano. However, the U.S. Geological Survey is very concerned about some of those people getting too close to the action.
A photo taken by a scientist from the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory in mid-March shows a person standing on an active lava delta, where molten rock is entering the ocean. Meantime, a video showed some daredevil kayakers paddling within feet of the hot lava.
Scientists saw the footage on Hawaii News Now last month. "Since then, some of the scientists out in the field, mapping the lava flows and monitoring the hazards, have seen people standing right on lava deltas," said Janet Babb, an HVO geologist. "And it's extremely dangerous because the delta can collapse without any warning at all."
According to Babb, lava deltas may look stable, but it's new land that's built on a foundation of loose rubble. A time-lapse video shows the collapse of the Lae'apuki lava delta in 2005. In that collapse, land a half-mile long and a quarter mile wide fell into the ocean over a five-hour period.
The steam rising from the lava entering the sea is also deadly. "It just looks like white steam, but it's actually superheated steam laced with hydrochloric acid and filled with tiny particles of volcanic glass," said Babb.
Scientists said persons should stay at least a quarter mile away from areas where lava enters the ocean. If a lava delta collapses, the resulting explosions could hurl rocks that far, in all directions.
"The same amount of stuff is being blasted out to sea as well. So when we see people paddle boarding and kayaking and boating very near the ocean entry, we're concerned for their safety," said Babb.
According the USGS, there have been four deaths to date related to ocean entry hazards. But even the hike to see the lava entry has claimed lives. A Canadian man died last week when he reportedly became dehydrated during the hike. His body was found on a lava field.
"Last week's fatality was not directly related to an ocean entry, but it does underscore the importance of being well-prepared for a very long, hot hike if you're going to see Kilauea's lava flows."
Related link: Hawaiian Volcano Observatory Volcano Watch