We have completed maintenance on DiscoverMagazine.com and action may be required on your account. Learn More

Kilauea Calms Briefly While Merapi in Indonesia Erupts Anew

Rocky Planet iconRocky Planet
By Erik Klemetti
May 11, 2018 5:47 PMNov 20, 2019 2:49 AM


Sign up for our email newsletter for the latest science news

A USGS scientist measures the temperature of gases emitted from a fissure at Leilani Estates on May 9, 2018. USGS/HVO. The eruptions at Kilauea took a bit of a break over the last day -- at least at the surface. The fissures that opened in Leilani Estates (see above) haven't erupted much new lava, but the are still emitting copious amounts of volcanic gases like sulfur dioxide. So, right now, that is the biggest hazard for people on the east side of the big island: the threat of volcanic fog, or vog. The mixture of water and sulfur dioxide makes acid, which can then irritate eyes, nose, mouth and lungs (at best) and cause extreme respiratory distress and death (at worst). However, as with most volcanoes, the real action to watch is happening underground. Earthquakes continues under the Puna area where the fissures opened and there is some indication that magma could be moving further down the East Rift zone, so the potential for eruptions to the northeast of Leilani Estates might be increasing. So far, this eruption has covered over 115 acres of land in and around Leilani Estates and destroyed at least 35 structures (mainly homes), displacing thousands of residents. UPDATE 12:15 pm EDT May 10:Here are some more details on the current assessment of the situation by the scientists at the Hawaii Volcano Observatory:

another amazing picture (9th May) provided by Bruce Omori about the fissure eruption at the East Rift Zone, Big Island, Hawaii. Mahalo Bruce! pic.twitter.com/5L5lbiyjYn

— Szabolcs Harangi (@szharangi) May 10, 2018

This is all happening at the same time as the summit lava lake at Halema'uma'u is continuing to drop

 (see below), so the chances of potential steam-driven explosions

at the summit might be increasing. The main cause for those explosions

would be pressure building after rock falls choke in the conduit that feed the lava lake, along with some mixing of lava and water to increase the explosiveness. All of this is happening because now the lava lake level will be below the water table, so water can directly create more steam in the conduit and interact with the lava. This potential for an explosive eruption has prompted a total closure of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park


Doooowwwwnnn she goes! Watch this thermal webcam video showing how the summit lava lake at #Kilauea#volcano dropped way down during the eruption over the past few days. From @USGSVolcanoes webcams via @volcanodiscoverpic.twitter.com/zbh4eMwxZk

— Oliver Lamb (@olamb245) May 8, 2018

So, the situation at Kilauea is very much a waiting game: will the Leilani Estates fissures start up again? Will eruptions move to the northeast? Will steam-driven explosions start at the summit of the volcano? The chances are there for all of these event, but only by closely monitoring the earthquakes, gases and inflation at Kilauea will the HVO scientists how those chances might be changing. If you need to catch up on all the events of this Leilani Estates eruption, HVO posted a list of everything

 that has happened over the past few weeks,.

Gunung Merapi meletus freatik pagi ini, pukul 7.32 WIB. Tinggi kolom abu 5.500 m dari puncak. Letusan disertai suara gemuruh. Status Level 1 (Normal), masyarakat harap tenang dan menjauh dari radius 5 Km. @BPPTKG@Pusdalops_diy@TRCBPBDDIY@BPBDMagelang@BPBDMagelangxpic.twitter.com/xhNawTk2DV

— BNPB Indonesia (@BNPB_Indonesia) May 11, 2018

Meanwhile, in Indonesia, another volcano is experiencing steam-driven explosions: Merapi

. The volcano whose 2010 eruption

caused killed over 350 people produced a phreatic blast today

that reached 5.5 kilometers (18,000 feet). As I've mentioned before, these steam-driven blasts don't have much in the way of precursors, so it was lucky no one was harmed in this explosion, although 120 hikers had to be rescued and thousands did evacuate

. Video of the eruption (see below) shows some small pyroclastic flows towards the summit of the volcano. The airport in Yogyakarta was also closed briefly

due to the ash. The question that Indonesian volcanologists will be trying to answer now is if this is a sign that Merapi might be reawakening for the first time since its eruptions in 2014 or merely a one-off eruption triggered by groundwater getting deeper into the summit rocks.

Erupsi freatik Gunung Merapi

Video didokumentasikan oleh para pendaki di Pasar Bubrah berjarak 1 km dari puncak kawah, Jumat (11/5). @RadioElshinta@Sutopo_PN@BNPB_Indonesia@jokowi@SBYudhoyonopic.twitter.com/zVhZS3lLuc — B Y S | 2017 (@BysDotCom) May 11, 2018

1 free article left
Want More? Get unlimited access for as low as $1.99/month

Already a subscriber?

Register or Log In

1 free articleSubscribe
Discover Magazine Logo
Want more?

Keep reading for as low as $1.99!


Already a subscriber?

Register or Log In

More From Discover
Recommendations From Our Store
Shop Now
Stay Curious
Our List

Sign up for our weekly science updates.

To The Magazine

Save up to 40% off the cover price when you subscribe to Discover magazine.

Copyright © 2024 Kalmbach Media Co.