Large Kilauea lava shelf falls into ocean

Published: Nov. 12, 2010 at 11:45 PM HST|Updated: Nov. 13, 2010 at 12:53 AM HST
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By Brooks Baehr - bio | email

Scientists at the Hawaiian Volcanoes Observatory atop Kilauea Volcano are again warning people about the danger associated with newly created land masses at the base of the volcano.

Just last week a large lava shelf, or delta, collapsed into the ocean where lava from Kilauea meets the sea. No one was killed or injured, but people have been caught by surprise before and paid the ultimate price.

"If you are standing there and it breaks off, you are going rafting in, I don't know, probably 800 degree water," Big Island resident David Jordan told Hawaii News Now.

Jordan makes a living photographing the volcano. He has witnessed lava shelves collapsing. He said sometimes it takes several minutes, but sometimes it big chunk of lava can tumble into the ocean in just seconds.

Jordan remembers 1993 when a Kona man was killed by a collapsing delta in an off-limits portion of Hawaiian Volcanoes National Park.

Scientists with the US Geological Survey take aerial pictures of the coast just about every week. In October they issued a warning. They were worried a growing shelf may collapse ... and they were right.

"We saw seismic signals early on the morning of November 2 about 5:30 in the morning. And by comparing photos from last week and this week we are able to see that a sliver of the West side of the delta fell in at that time," said scientist in charge Jim Kauahikaua.

Kauahikaua estimates the mass that fell into the ocean was almost four football fields long and about 40 yards wide.

"When we do see illegal trespassers out there … lava is going into the ocean right at the edge and that's where they want to be. And if they had been there at 5:30 on November 2, they wouldn't be coming back probably," Kauahikaua said.

Steam generated by lava hitting the ocean can also be fatal. In November, 2000 two people were killed by breathing the super heated vapor.

The danger is easy to avoid. Heed warning signs and do not get too close to the point where lave enters the sea. And by all means do not go onto anything that may be a lava shelf.

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