Hawaii's Kilauea Lava Flow: 20 Years and Counting

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"For the longest time people had to hike about four miles (6.4 kilometers) across hardened lava to see the active flows," said Steve O'Meara. "So most people saw it from a distance. Now you can practically park your car and be a stones throw away. Its very vigorous, very active, and quite spectacular activity."

Kilauea's daily lava production averages between 300,000 to 600,000 square meters (358,000 to 717,000 square yards). Over the past two decades the eruption has added more than 540 acres (219 hectares) of new land to the big island of Hawaii's south shore.

Front Row Seats to a Primordial Stage

"There are few places on earth where humans can walk alongside a lava flow, hear it crackle and hiss, and actually see the creation of new land, see how the earth is formed," Steve O'Meara said.

As lava from the Kilaeua eruption flows down the mountain and reaches the sea, it creates a towering plume of steam above the coastline that is visible for miles.

"You are able to stand on the cliff and down below, as the night is getting darker, you can look into the sea and see the advancing lava flows explode like underwater lightning," said Steve O'Meara.

When conditions are favorable, visitors to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park can hike over hardened lava for an close-up views of active flows. The trek is not without its perils.

"With a volcano like Kilauea, the flows move gently, and the steam looks like angels. Its deceiving," said Donna O'Meara. "This volcano can still kill you. We lose people in the park every year."

New flows in 2002 threatened residents recently, but the imminent danger appears to have passed. "I think that for the moment, the immediate threat to residents is over," said Steve O'Meara. "But that doesn't mean it won't happen again."

Risks notwithstanding, the O'Mearas say they wouldn't want to be anywhere else.

"For me to live on the volcano is exciting every day, because we don't know what is going to happen," said Donna O'Meara. "Living here, we see nature's beauty and ferocity up close. I feel really privileged to have a front row seat. We live in the world's most beautiful living laboratory."

Though predicting volcanic activity is no sure bet, it appears that Kilauea's enduring eruption will continue indefinitely.

"For this particular eruption to stop you would need some kind of dramatic change to occur—something that hasn't happened in 20 years," said Steve O'Meara. "These things do occur and have occurred in the past, but right now there is no sign of this stopping."

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