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Active Lava Forecasts 4-26-17

Active Lava Forecasts: Can you predict what lava flows will do?

Active lava forecasts can’t be found in the newspaper or online next to the weather. You won’t find them posted in Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park or even at the USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory. The reason is that nobody can predict what will happen with a lava flow in advance. Not scientists, not tour guides, not even fortune tellers. (Okay we’re not 100% sure about the fortune tellers but don’t bet on it.)

Lava Forecast, Predicting Lava, Lava Tours

Can lava flow activity be predicted??? – Image: Ron Bodoh, remixed by Lavaland Hawai’i

Is there Active Lava?:

Yes! Here on the Big Island, we’re currently blessed with an ongoing active lava flow which began spilling into the Pacific Ocean in July of 2016. The source of this flow is a vent located in the Kahauale’a Natural Area Reserve high up above the edge of Pulama Pali, a 2,000+ foot tall cliff. This entire area reserve has been closed since 2007 due to significant volcanic hazards. The vent is about 6 miles from the ocean entry and is not visible from the coastal plain.

The lava is flowing from the vent to the ocean through a system of lava tubes. These tubes formed crusts of hardened lava as the flow advanced seaward and have now completely enclosed the streams of molten lava. The lava flowing from the vent to the ocean is not usually visible because it’s going through these tubes under the hardened lava surface.

You can see the molten lava spilling from the 60 foot tall sea cliff into the ocean at the Kamokuna Ocean Entry. Activity has been continuous here since July of 2016 and can change from day to day. The cliff edge near the lava flow is highly unstable but you can see it from the safe zone established by park rangers. Guests on our recent tours have safely witnessed steam explosions, fire hose flows, lava deltas forming and even a small delta collapse there. Changes in the lava flow at the ocean entry are generally easier to track since here the flows tend to stay in the same general area and produces a large steam plume visible from miles away.

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Rising gasses are all that reveal the lava tube system from the 61g vent all the way to the Kamokuna Ocean Entry in this recent photo. – Photo: USGS-HVO


Can I stand next to lava?:

Sometimes the pressurized lava breaks out of the tube system in places and flows on the surface of the ground. These surface breakouts can start anywhere along the tube system, from up near the vent to down by the ocean entry. If a large breakout occurs near the vent in the closed Kahauale’a Natural Area Reserve above the cliff edge you can sometimes see the red lava flow descending the cliff for a few days to weeks. These flows sometimes reach the coastal plain at the base of the cliff but more often die out before they reach the cliff base. Regardless of what anyone tries to tell you there is no way to predict when (or if) they will make it down into legally accessible land. A more common source of surface flow are smaller breakouts along the tube system which travel only a short distance from the tube.

When available, these surface flows are usually safe to approach quite closely. But these breakouts occur without warning and can start and stop in as little as a few minutes to hours. This activity changes frequently and the location where surface flow is active also can vary from day to day. Because of this we never know if we’ll be able to take our guests to surface flow on any given day until very shortly before the tour and it cannot be guaranteed.

There is no reliably discernible pattern to this activity. We’ve seen robust surface breakouts that have started and stopped literally overnight, and also smaller, less vigorous flows that have gone on for weeks. Sometimes the activity seems to correspond with magma pressure changes or seismic activity deep within Kilauea. Other times not at all. From years of observation we’ve learned one thing for sure; what happens on one day will not necessarily happen the next.

We’d love to be able to tell our guests what they’re going to see in advance but the truth is that no one can do that with any certainty. Our experienced guides are out on the lava fields nearly every day and we regularly scout for active surface flow on the coastal plain. But experience has taught us that we can’t predict what we’ll find there from day to day.

So can you predict what Kilauea’s lava flows will do in the future with any accuracy? In a word … no.

Nature always keeps us guessing. Nevertheless, it’s wonderful to be able to take our guests to see active lava, whether it’s flowing into the ocean, across the ground, or both.

Don’t miss this opportunity to see it for yourself! Book your Lava Bike and Hike Tour with us today!

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