Kilauea volcano could launch 10-ton ballistic boulders in dramatic explosion

Steam and fire rises from fissure  REUTERS

If Kilauea Volcano on Hawaii Island goes into what is now predicted as "a new cycle of violent eruption" with massive smoke, fumes and poisonous Sulfur Dioxide gas and equally poisonous Hydrogen Sulfide gas, when the trade winds eventually shift, Maui and Oahu could also be at risk for the potentially deadly vog. (Pictured: Gas rises from a crater, illuminated by the glow of lava.) Mario Tama/Getty ImagesWhere There's SmokeHere, U.S. Army National Guard member measures for sulfur dioxide gas. Geologists warned Wednesday that Hawaii's Kilauea volcano could erupt explosively and send boulders, rocks and ash into the air around its summit in the coming weeks.

Scientists at the US Geological Survey's Hawaii Volcano Observatory worry that if the lava lake drops too far, groundwater will seep into the conduit - the plumbing in this vast, interconnected system - between the summit and the East Rift Zone.

They include Medicine Lake Volcano in Modoc County, Mt. Shasta to the west, Lassen Volcanic National Park, which erupted about 100 years ago, the Long Valley Volcanic Region near Mammoth Lakes, the Coso Volcanic Fields in Eastern California, and the Salton Buttes near the Mexican border. But the larger rocks are going to fall closer to the vent.

High levels of acidic particles in vog "can induce asthma attacks, especially in adolescents, and can also impede the ability of the upper respiratory tract to remove other potentially harmful particles", the USGS says.

If the lava lake drains to the water table, steam-driven explosions could throw blocks of rock up to six feet wide for distances of up to a mile.

Satellite images of the Kilauea Volcanowere captured using the Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER) which is in onboard NASA's Terra satellite.

But a large crater called Halema'uma'u sits near the center of Kilauea, and it's filled with a lake of bright red and yellow lava.

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The largest explosion may have taken place on May 18, 1924; a number of people were near Halemaumau when it happened, and one was killed by falling debris.

It has now been a week since the eruption began, the emotional toll wearing residents down.

The USGS reports that similar explosions are likely to happen again, especially after magma migrates into the rift zones on the volcano's flanks, which seems to be occurring now.

Many residents believe that Kilauea's eruptions are not just natural disasters, but the act of Pele, a Hawaiian volcano goddess that resides inside the mountain. The magma would heat the water and create steam that would push accumulated rocks out in an explosion.

The more notorious 1980 eruption is linked to at least 57 direct deaths due to pyroclastic density currents associated with the explosion. "You don't want to be underneath anything that weighs 10 tons when it's coming out at 120 miles per hour (193 kph)".

"We want to make sure that everybody is still working and people have jobs to go back to", Birch said. "We don't anticipate there being any wholesale devastation or evacuations necessary anywhere in the state of Hawaii".

Hawaii's governor warned that mass evacuations may be required in the lower Puna district as more fissures open.

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