The newest threat from Kilauea: 'Explosive eruptions' at crater

Volcanoes National Parks closes over concerns of steam explosion
(Image: USGS)
(Image: USGS)
(Image: USGS)
(Image: USGS)

KILAUEA VOLCANO, BIG ISLAND (HawaiiNewsNow) - The steady lowering of the Kilauea lava lake means the potential for "explosive eruptions" near the summit is increasing, USGS scientists warn.

Geologists say the lake level has dropped more than 720 feet since the floor of the Pu'u O'o crater collapsed April 30.

And it continues to drop as new fissures emerge in Leilani Estates, some 25 miles from the lava lake.

If the lava column drops to the groundwater level, it could trigger steam-driven explosions, shooting rocks and ash into the air.

The lava lake is dropping as it travels downslope toward Leilani Estates, triggering at least 14 eruptions so far.

Images from May 3 show the lava lake nearly full. Within several days, the levels were significantly lower.

Meanwhile, rockfalls from the crater's walls and ash plumes are expected to continue as the lava lake drops.

That's exactly what happened Wednesday morning. The USGS said a rockfall (not water interacting with lava) generated a short-lived explosion at Halemaumau Crater, sending an ash column high into the air.

Geologists examining the ash deposits on the rim of Halemaumau Crater found fresh lava fragments hurled from the lava lake.

And when the ash cleared from the crater about an hour after the explosion, scientists were able to see the lava lake surface and confirm it is still above the water table.

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