Kilauea, the most active of the five volcanoes on the island of Hawaii, has been erupting since the early 80s. The Hawaii Volcano Observatory keeps a close eye on the activity and issued “watch” alerts in late April 2018, warning the community around Kilauea to a potential eruption. Just days later, new fissures began opening leading to unpredictable circumstances and the evacuation of hundreds.
Dr. Jason Kaiser, Assistant Professor of Geology at Southern Utah University, has followed his fascination with volcanoes around the world.
“The Hawaiian islands were formed by volcanic eruptions, as the crust of the Pacific Plate moves over a hot spot, magma can melt the overlying rock, creating new volcanoes. Hence the chain of Hawaiian islands. Activity is focused on the Big Island with eruptions taking place every few years over the last century.”
Noting the uncertainty of the situation, Dr. Kaiser said “this is the most recent in a series of 12 fissures on the Big Island. Fissures can be dangerous due to lava erupting from vents that may be many meters to kilometers long and in some cases spewing lava tens of meters into the air.”
“Lava flows with the consistency of maple syrup but the density of concrete. It is usually quite easy to out pace a lava flow on foot, but the flows are relentless and will destroy everything in their path. Generated by magma melting in the upper mantle as part of a Hot Spot, these flows can reach temperatures of over 2000 degrees Fahrenheit, hot enough to incinerate the homes of residents of the area.”
In addition to the lava, gas erupts along the fissures leading to dangerous conditions that can reach longer distances.
“Sulfur dioxide is one of many gases emitted during volcanic eruptions and a hazard to people when inhaled. The gas can cause breathing problems and exaggerate symptoms for those with pre-existing conditions. Volcanoes such as those in Hawaii are capable of emitting many tons of sulfur dioxide every day and the gas can spread over long distances and effects other islands depending on the wind patterns.”
To learn about different geological features, Dr. Kaiser has traveled to Bolivia, Chile, Argentina, Iceland, the Bahamas, and across the U.S. He is currently investigating geothermal energy sources and potential disasters in southern Utah, as one of his broader interests include geologic hazards and natural disasters. He is familiar with the media and available for an interview. Simply visit his profile.
Jason Kaiser Associate Professor of Geology
Specializing in volcanoes and understanding how and why magma accumulates in the Earth’s crust