Volcano, Hawai’i’s Big Island (March 28, 2008) – The exciting volcanic activity continues to evolve in Halema’uma’u crater at the summit of Kîlauea volcano on Hawai’i Island.  Meanwhile, miles away, molten lava is flowing into the sea, providing stunning panoramas for lucky visitors.

At the summit, the dramatic plume of gas and steam that has been gushing from a vent in the crater wall since March 11 has turned from fluffy white to dusky brown. That’s because the mile-high plume now contains ash.

Equally as dramatic, but visible only to intrepid geologists who venture to the crater rim just above the vent (off-limits to the public), were deposits of “Pele’s hair” (thin strands of solidified lava), and “Pele’s tears” (droplets of lava rock) above the crater rim. These artifacts of the eruption indicate that molten lava has ejected from the vent. However, no flowing lava has been seen on the crater floor – yet.

This activity follows on the heels of the small March 19 gas explosion in the crater wall that threw rock over the top of the rim onto a parking lot, which was already closed because it was downwind of the sulfuric plume. This marked the first explosive eruption at Kîlauea’s summit since 1924, and the first eruption in the crater since 1982.

The elevated sulfur dioxide levels near the plume aren’t dangerous to anyone upwind, but exposure to high levels of SO2 can be of concern, especially to anyone with respiratory conditions. As long as the customary tradewinds keep blowing, park visitors are safe.
There’s also good news for the Kona and Kohala coasts. Though the air may look hazy in West Hawai’i, there is very little SO2 left in it by then.
“Visitors should know that if they follow precautions, come prepared, and listen to officials, the volcanic activity on Hawai’i Island is not only fascinating to witness, it’s also safe,” said George Applegate, Executive Director of the Big Island Visitors Bureau. “A contingent of scientists, local and federal officials are keeping close tabs on the situation, and keeping the public well informed,” he said.
So Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park is still very much open for business. Though the downwind stretch of Crater Rim Drive is closed off for now from just past Kîlauea Military Camp, as is Jaggar Museum and its overlook, visitors can get stunning views of the plume from the trail along Volcano House hotel.

Meanwhile, down on the coastal part of the Puna District, flows of molten lava from Kîlauea are still oozing overland and into the ocean. The county has set up a viewing area at the end of Highway 130. It’s currently open from 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. with the last car permitted into the parking area at 8 p.m.

At press time, able-bodied visitors can expect a walk of 40 minutes, or possibly more, from their car to the viewing site. The route crosses some pavement, and meanders across a plain of smooth yet uneven hardenedpâhoehoe lava. It all depends on where the flows are going that day. Sturdy walking shoes are a must, as are long pants, sunscreen, a flashlight and at least two quarts of water per person. It’s a bit of an effort, but if the lava is flowing, the sight will be worth every step.

The Big Island Visitors Bureau has launched a new user-friendly volcano eruption update page on its www.bigisland.org website,www.bigisland.org/volcanoupdate. Visitors are able to download a safe lava-viewing PDF from the site.

For the latest eruption updates and Hawai’i volcanoes information, visit the U.S. Geological Survey Hawaiian Volcano Observatory site,http://hvo.wr.usgs.gov

For additional eruption updates, call Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park at (808) 985-6000 or visit www.nps.gov/havo/planyourvisit/lava2.htm.

For additional information on conditions at the Kalapana lava view area, call the Hawai’i County Civil Defense lava hotline at (808) 961-8093, or visitwww.lavainfo.us