Hawaii's "Gentle" Volcano More Dangerous Than Thought

Richard A. Lovett
for National Geographic News
May 6, 2009

Hawaii's tourist-friendly Kilauea volcano is famous for its lazy rivers of lava (Kilauea volcano lava pictures).

But a new report says the volcano, known as the world's most active, has a violent alter ego.

The coastal volcano on the Big Island of Hawaii is capable of much stronger eruptions than previously thought, according to the study.

"It turns out that the volcano—known for being this nice, gentle volcano [where] you can walk up to lava flows just wearing flip-flops—has a very dangerous side," said study co-author Tim Rose, a volcanologist at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.

(Related: "Hawaii's Kilauea Lava Flow: 20 Years and Counting.")

Kilauea's violent side was revealed by a layer of tephra—volcanic ash and rocks—extending many miles from the volcano.

The tephra, the scientists determined, erupted some time between 1,000 and 1,600 years ago, when it apparently was blasted high enough into the air that today it would be a hazard to passenger jets.

"It threw golf ball-size rocks out to a distance of about 16 or 17 kilometers [10 to 11 miles]," said Donald Swanson, a volcanologist at the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, who was also involved in the study, published in the May/June issue of the Geological Society of America Bulletin.

Related Video: Kilauea Eruption, July 2008

The tephra was found as far away as the coast—currently about 13 miles (21 kilometers), at its nearest point, from Kilauea's caldera—suggesting that the eruption might have spewed ash and rock even farther, out to sea.

Another round of eruptions, slightly less powerful, occurred between 500 and 200 years ago, Swanson added.

Continued on Next Page >>




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