Clinton, NY - Nearly 5,000 miles from the Big Island, a small college in upstate New York is playing a key role in helping scientists understand Kilauea's eruption.
It's where lava rocks from the fissures in the East rift zone are being tested.
"The volcanologists collect them. They FedEx them to us. We have to try to analyze them and get them the data back within a day or two," geologist David Bailey said.
He runs the Hamilton Analytical Laboratory at tiny Hamilton College in upstate New York. The federal government contracts it for detailed analyses of lava.
The lab was tasked with working on Kilauea for geologists in Hawaii.
"We've been trying to get really rapid turnaround on that, within a few hours if we can, to keep track if anything is changing in the magma itself," UH Hilo geologist Cheryl Gansecki said.
So far the lab's tested rock samples from seven fissures.
"We have to turn them into a powder. So we pulverize them into a fine powder," Bailey said.
That powder is pressed into small round discs that are run through a machine that identifies their chemical compounds.
Scientists in Hawaii combine that data with their own. It's revealed some surprises.
"What we found is that fissure 17, the big one that's been going for a couple of days, is something completely different than we've ever seen on Kilauea," Gansecki said.
The Hamilton lab is doing in days what used to take weeks or months.
"I fully expect we will continue to get samples from the progression so they can monitor how this is changing and developing over time," Bailey said.
He said out of respect all the lava samples are returned to the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory.