What will the lava do next? UH team is trying to answer just that

HILO, BIG ISLAND (HawaiiNewsNow) - A team at the University of Hawaii Hilo is using cutting-edge technology to analyze lava and determine its behavior in real-time.

The work, which is a cooperative agreement between UH Hilo and the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, consists of analyzing lava samples daily, which can help determine how fast it will move.

"We can do a really quick chemical analysis, we can look for tracers that tell us if anything is changing in the magma, in the system, and get that information back to (HVO) right away, usually within hours, or at least a day," UH Volcanologist Sheryl Gansecki said, in a news release.

UH Hilo was collecting lava samples from Kilauea several years before the current eruption event.

But Gansecki says the lava being sampled now is much more interesting. At first, it was older, colder magma that had been stored. But now, the team is seeing something different.

"As the fissures progressed, we started to see, younger, hotter, magma coming in," she said.

Younger, hotter lava is more fluid and can travel longer distances. And with that information in mind, the team was able to give the U.S. Geological Survey a warning of the incoming changes in eruptive behavior. This allowed authorities to be on guard for the event of faster, more threatening flows in mid May.

The university says the team detected the chemical change two to three days before an actual change in eruptive behavior occurred. This replaces a process that used to take weeks or months.

"We started this project more than 5 years ago basically with the idea to be ready for something like this," Gansecki said.

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