How volcanoes affect the economy

Photos by Edward Kohut, all rights reserved, used by permission, 2009
Photos by Dr. Edward Kohut, all rights reserved, used by permission, 2009
Many times people think that volcanic eruptions affect the economy through the destruction inflicted upon the landscape during an eruption: lahars and pyroclastic flows destroying bridges and homes, ash ruining crops and water, lava flows overunning communities. However, in Hawai’i, a new effect of volcanism has been seen in the agriculture of the state. The volcanic fog – or “vog” as its called – has been causing major problems with farms on the Big Island of Hawai’i. Since the new activity at Halemaumau (see above) began last year, Kilaeua has been spewing much larger volumes (2-4 times more) of volcanic gases such as sulfur dioxide, carbon dioxide, water and carbon monoxide than in previous years. These gases form a brown fog that is caustic to most animals and plants. The sulfur dioxide, in particular, has caused many crops to fail thanks to the production of sulfuric acid with the sulfur dioxide interacts with water – think of it as a very concentrated version of “acid rain” that is seen in the eastern United States.
The solution to this would either be to build “vog-proof” air-filtering greenhouses or planting a limited set of plants that seem to withstand the effects of the vog. Alternately, one can hope that the gas emissions from Kilaeau will return to lower levels, allowing for the plants to survive. In any of these cases, the growers on the island face a large financial hardship in order to keep their businesses alive in the face of the volcano. This passive destruction of plants by Kilaeua shows how even when a volcano seems to be benign, it can inflict millions of dollars of damage on the local economy.

A third ocean lava entry at Kilauea

Lava issuing from the current eruptions at Kilauea have started a third ocean entry (and the second within the Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park). The entry is not as dramatic as some, forming a slow, dripping entry of lava into the ocean (see linked video footage), but every little drip adds a little more land to the big island of Hawai’i.
In some other Hawaiian volcano news, the USGS have also posted a video showing the filling and draining of the lava lake in Halemaumau that started last year. Usually, the crater was surrounded by steam and fumes from the degassing magma, but the thermal camera pierced the veil to show the lava rising and falling within the crater.

Lava keeps flowing at Kilauea

Although this news isn’t as threatening as the title of the article implies: HAWAII LAVA FLOW NEARS NATIONAL PARK, it is still some news as it could be the first lava flow to cross into the park in over a lava. The flow itself is headed towards what is called the “Waikupanaha ocean entry” on the southeast side of the island. The lava flow has about one mile to go before it reaches the Pacific Ocean, but it has travelled several hundred feet (maybe 100 meters) over the last 10 days according to Park Rangers and USGS geologists monitoring the flow’s progress.
Of course, compared to your average pyroclastic flow or lahar, traveling at tens to hundreds kilometers per hour, tracking this lava flow is a little bit like watching paint dry (except, of course, it is lava). It shows the whole different level of volcanic hazard presented by Hawaiian volcanism versus Plinian (explosive) volcanism, where the level of concern at the park can be summed up with “Our idea is not to control and prevent. Our idea is to educate.”

Lava flow destroys house in Hawai’i

The headline for this entry sounds more dramatic than it is, but one of the last structures in the ill-fated Royal Gardens subdivision on the big island of Hawai’i finally met its fiery demise over the weekend. For those of you unfamiliar with the plight of the subdivision, Royal Gardens is part of Kalapana, and it was unfortunately situated quite close to the Pu’u O’o rift that has been erupting since 1983. Most of the subdivision has been overrun by lava flows since then, but one of the last two structures still being used was done in by the basaltic lava. The first link has a great map showing the October lava flows and where they have gone, along with some stills of the flows overtaking the house (in the video).

Ash eruption video from Halemaumau

On Sunday afternoon, a large ash eruption occurred at Halemaumau Caldera at Kilauea. Not only did the volcano belch more grey ash than usual, but also red-hot incandescent material can be clearly seen being thrown from the vent during the vigorous eruption. The coolest thing about the eruption is that it was all caught on film by the USGS/HVO. Take a look (at three times speed) – this video is from the morning of October 12, but there are a series of video from the whole weekend on the website.

New lava lake sighted at Kilauea

Not sure how it was kept quiet for most of the week (well, at least to me), but geologists at the HVO have noticed a new lava lake in Halemaumau Caldera on Kilauea (Hawai’i). The lava lake is around 330 feet (~100 meters) below the crater rim and ~160 feet (50 meters) across with sections of reddish, glowing lava and black crust on the surface. It seems that an explosion on Tuesday helped reveal the lava lake from the surface. The USGS has posted some video of the lava lake for your enjoyment. There are only a few active lava lakes worldwide (such as those at Villarrica in Chile and Erebus in Antarctica), so it is always exciting when a new one forms. The longevity of lava lakes is controlled (partially) by the supply rate of magma to the vent area, so it will be interesting to see how long it lasts.
UPDATE 9/7/2008
Here is the official word on the lava lake from the USGS:

For the first time since the new vent opened in Halema`uma`u Crater on
March 19, HVO scientists in a helicopter hovering over the crater were
able to see the surface of a sloshing 50 m (160 ft) diameter lava lake
about 100 m (330 ft) below the vent rim. HVO scientists have speculated
that a lava pond existed a few hundred meters below the vent, but have not
been able to get visual confirmation until this morning.
A second viewing early this afternoon revealed a roiling pond with
multiple bursting bubbles changing into a central upwelling circulation
pattern. The lake level dropped slightly before the cycle restarted. This
behavior has been witnessed before, most recently in Pu`u `O`o vents and
the July 21 lava ponds on Kilauea’s east rift zone, and is known as ‘gas
pistoning.’ One model explains pistoning as small gas bubbles coalescing
into larger bubbles beneath a crust on a lava pond, rising to the surface,
and then bursting. The released pulse of hot gas carries rock dust from
the collapsing vent walls, bits of the lava lake crust, and small amounts
of spatter.
The Halema`uma`u vent has produced six significant explosive eruptions in
the past 5.5 months, most recently on September 2, 2008 at 8:13 p.m.
H.s.t., during which noteworthy amounts of fresh lava spatter and lithic
material (rock fragments and dust) were ejected on to the crater rim. Just
prior to this event, incandescence from the vent was almost nonexistent
except for brief pulses of glow.
Nearly eight hours later, Kilauea’s summit abruptly inflated, signaling
the end of 39 hours of deflation. Summit deflation-inflation (DI) events
have been observed at least 20 times since the Halema`uma`u vent opened.
Each DI event has been interpreted as the fall and subsequent rise in
magma levels beneath the summit.
Less than 8 hours after inflation started, episodic tremor bursts began
which are visible at night as pulses of bright incandescence every 5-6
minutes.  Episodic tremor bursts have been a nearly constant feature of
the Halema`uma`u vent over the past few months and were one of the early
pieces of evidence pointing toward a gas pistoning source.
This unusually bright incandescence over the past two nights and the
volume of material erupted on September 2 are consistent with a lava
surface at relatively shallow depths beneath the vent. Molten lava is not
directly visible from the Jaggar Museum overlook, but that vantage point
provides excellent views of the glowing vent at night.
Jim Kauahikaua, Scientist-in-Charge
USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory

New flows at Kilauea

Not to feel left out from all the action going on in Alaska, Kilauea in Hawai’i has a new lava flow issuing from the Thankgiving Eve Breakout (TEB) vent area. It sounds like a fairly small flow and none of the flows have reached the ocean. The TEB was the November 21, 2007 event where activity migrated away from the Pu’u O’o area to a new vent to the east.

Kilauea’s new fire fountain

Kilauea USGS
Kilauea is busy keeping geologists and tourists alike wondering what the volcano will be doing next. The current report on the volcano tells of a new fire fountain at the Thanksgiving Eve Break-out “rootless cone”, about 6 miles from the ocean. The fire fountain started on Sunday night, issuing lava up to 40 feet in the air and the USGS has posted an amazing video of the fountaining on the HVO website. However, unlike the predicted behavior where magma at Kilauea starts near the summit and moves into the rifts, these lavas appear to be unrelated to the activity going on at the summit of Kilauea. This could mean that we have less of a grasp on the internal plumbing of this giants shield volcano than we previously thought … and it is always exciting when nature decides to prove us wrong! 
This heightened state of eruption at Kilauea during the past week has also doubled the levels of sulfur dioxide being emitted from the volcano, which, of course, leads to more of the dreaded vog. Most of it has blown out to sea, but as winds change, so might that.
Edited 7/8/08 to fix location of the eruption (thanks to Mariek Schmidt for the clarification).

Kilauea lava flows entering the sea

There are some nice videos of the current eruption of Kilauea (after some tedious commercials via the link at the top of the article) with lava spattering and lava reaching the sea on the 4th of July. Not much description of the eruption in the article, but it sounds like it is just the Hawai’ian volcano doing what it does best (and possible ramping up for more).

Kilauea: Summit vent still steaming away

Kilauea 2008
Not much in the way of science to add here, but photographers at Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park are still busy around the clock documenting the summit vent activity at Kilauea that started in March. Most of the activity is steam escaping from the vent, but at night, the vent glows red, proving just how close to the surface the magma is right now. Occasionally, the volcano throws out some volcanic clasts, probably in phreatomagmatic (water/magma interaction) explosions. The USGS Hawaii Volcano Observatory has a nice series of photos of the current activity and research as well, mostly about some of the lava that is making its way to the sea (see photo above) from the rift vents that are continuing to erupt.