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Scientists warn of possible new vent and lava flow at Kilauea volcano

  • On April 4, Kilauea volcano's summit lava lake saw a spattering on the north side and center of the lake surface. USGS video.


    A geologist with the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory monitors the lava lake level at Halemaumau Crater Tuesday when a large spatter site was active along the eastern side of the lake. Scientists say changes in magma at Kilauea point to a possible new vent and lava flow being formed.

Scientists at Hawaiian Volcano Observatory report that the magma system beneath Kilauea’s Puu Oo cone has become increasingly pressurized, a fact that could lead to the formation of a new vent and lava flow.

Steven Brantley, deputy scientist in charge at the observatory, said today that observations and measurements over the past month have led to the conclusion that a new vent could soon form.

“The cone is extremely hazardous and could be flooded at any time,” Brantley said.

The vent could form at the cone or in adjacent areas along Kilauea’s east rift zone, he said, but it’s impossible to say exactly where and to where it might flow.

The Hawaiian Volcano Observatory issued a Volcano Activity Notice warning of the potential volcanic activity on Tuesday.

Since about mid-March, a tiltmeter and GPS station at Puu Oo have seen a pronounced inflationary movement of the cone, and recent webcam images have recorded an uplift of the crater floor by several yards, the notice said.

It appears that magma is accumulating at shallow depths beneath the cone, Brantley said.

He said scientists believe a new vent could soon form because similar episodes of inflation and uplift at Puu Oo preceded the last vents that opened up — in May and June 2014, which produced the June 27 flow that threatened Pahoa and May 2016, which produced a flow that is still active.

Although the area around the cone is closed by the state Department of Land and Natural Resources and Volcanoes National Park, some people still venture up there.

“This is a really bad time to go out to Puu Oo,” Brantley said.

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