Why fissure 8 is beginning to look like its own volcano

Published: Jun. 30, 2018 at 6:37 PM HST|Updated: Jul. 4, 2018 at 10:48 AM HST
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The fissure 8 splatter cone is photographed on June 24. (Source: USGS)
The fissure 8 splatter cone is photographed on June 24. (Source: USGS)

PUNA, BIG ISLAND (HawaiiNewsNow) - Fissure no. 8 has taken on a look of its own, in fact some might even say it looks like its own volcano now.

The fissure's lava fountains have surrounded itself with a cone of cinder and spatter that's now about 180 feet tall, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

The fissure's massive cone is a sight to see, but according to one expert, it's not remarkable.

"Such features are very common in these types of eruptions," said Ken Rubin, chairman of the Department of Geology and Geophysics at the University of Hawaii.

Rubin says that these cinder cones are created by lava erupting into the air, and then piling back down on to the ground. The height of a cinder cone typically reflects the peak height of its lava fountains. But Rubin says they can partly collapse, and change shape during an eruption.

"Notice for instance that the current fissure 8 cone is tallest on the southwest side, which is common for tradewind conditions,  But if winds change, the cone will pile up in a different downwind direction," he said.

However it takes its final form, the cone will likely remain a permanent feature on the big island's landscape, just like others have in the past.

Cones have been created at both the Mauna Ulu and Puu Oo eruption areas. Rubin says another Kilauea eruption event in 1955 is comparable to recent events.

"Like the current eruption, 1955 reached a maximum fountain height several weeks into the eruption.  We could still see high fountains down in Leilani Estates, but it becomes less likely the longer time moves forward," he said.

The USGS says lava fountains are only occasionally rising above fissure no. 8's cinder cone at this point, whereas before they were spouting as high as 260 feet.

So as the large cone appears to hit its peak for now, have officials thought about naming the new 18-story-high structure?

"It hasn't happened yet," said Rick Hacklett, an associate researcher at the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory. "But it's big enough to justify a name."

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