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Hawaiian Volcano Observatory lowers Kilauea alert level as eruption expected to stay within crater

Hawaiian Volcano Observatory this afternoon lowered Kilauea’s volcano alert level from “warning” to “watch” and its aviation color code from red to orange, reflecting the less hazardous nature of the ongoing eruption.

The eruption, which started Wednesday, has been confined to Halemaumau Crater within Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park, and HVO officials said there’s no indication of any activity migrating elsewhere on the volcano. They said they expect the eruption to remain confined to the summit region.

At this point, the only hazard of concern, they said, is the high level of volcanic gas and fine volcanic particles being spewed into the air.

But even the volcanic gas has trended downward. The amount of sulfur dioxide emitted has dropped from 85,000 tons per day (one metric ton equals 2,200 pounds) to 12,000 tons a day.

Although the amount of gas and volcanic particle production has decreased, both remain significant local hazards within the plume, HVO said. Concentrations of sulfur dioxide at the vents remain high and significantly elevated at stations a few miles southwest of Halemaumau, officials said.

Kilauea, meanwhile, continued to put on its show inside Halemaumau Crater today following a weekend that saw plenty of visitors flock to the eruption.

Park officials said at least 10,000 people were drawn to the eruption over three days — Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if it was double that,” said park spokeswoman Jessica Ferracane, adding that the park’s off-hours visitor counting equipment isn’t working right now, and lots of folks are coming to view the volcano’s powerful orange glow at night, when the entrance isn’t staffed. The park is open 24 hours a day.

The Halemaumau lava lake continues to be fed with molten lava and had risen more than 6 feet from Sunday to today. Lava fountains were seen reaching as high as 50 feet.

Ferracane said the rising lava lake has allowed visitors to able to see a segment of the lava lake and lava fountaining action from at least two locations: Uekahuna, the site of the former Jagger Museum, and on the Keanakakoi side, which requires visitors to walk a mile on the old Crater Rim Drive.

“Most people are pretty pleasant and obeying the rules but it is crowded, so people should be wearing their masks,” she said.

National Park Service and Hawaii County COVID-19 regulations require people to wear a mask, indoors or out, when there are 10 people or more present.

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