Source: Nature: "Violent Hawaii"
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The volcanic eruptions that formed the islands of Hawaii are still active today. Kilauea, on the Big Island of Hawaii, ranks among the world's most active volcanoes and provides a dramatic display of volcanic power. The volcano’s newest cone, Pu`u `O`o regularly spews molten rock, and its steady flow of lava in the past two decades has added more than 500 acres to the island. In this video segment from Nature, follow geologists as they retrieve samples from a fresh batch of Kilauea's molten lava.
Volcanoes form when magma from beneath the Earth’s crust breaks through the surface and erupts. As the erupting lava cools, new islands are created. Every several thousand years, a new island emerges from the sea. It is immediately exposed to winds and rain that erode its surface, but seeds and spores, blown by the wind, become embedded in the newly-formed soil. In a relatively short period of time, the barren rock surface is transformed into a lush tropical island. Today, lava flows from active volcanoes can provide information about underground magma flow, yielding information about potential future eruptions. In spite of scientific advances, however, there is not yet a method for predicting volcanic eruptions with complete accuracy.
Hawaii was born in fire…. Its islands spawned by volcanic eruptions. And in some places, the fires still burn.
On the big island – the island named Hawaii – Kilauea spews forth molten rock, in a daily spectacle of creation.
The volcano’s newest cone – Pu’u o’o – has erupted almost continuously since it first appeared in 1983.
The steady flow of lava over two decades has added more than 500 acres to the island.
The landscape of Kilauea may seem alien and forbidding, but some find it irresistible.
This may be the best place on the planet to observe a long term eruption at close range.
Scientists come often to the floor of Kilauea’s caldera, to take the pulse of the volcano.
Here the ground itself is hot … and treacherous… in danger of giving way to the lava that flows beneath.
Kilauea’s lava can move fast… at well over two thousand degrees Fahrenheit.
For geologists Carl Thornber and Tim Orr, today’s mission is a daunting one: retrieving samples from a fresh batch of molten lava.
Thornber: Looks like we got some hot stuff up ahead…
They’ll quench their samples in a coffee can filled with water. Protective gear is minimal. They rely more on expertise honed by years of experience.
Thornber: Ok. Let’s do it. …that’s a nice breakout from this tumuli… ooh hot. Not a little hot, it’s really hot.
The lava is surrounded by a scorching shroud of superheated air.
Color and brightness are good indicators of temperature… but the heat reveals itself in other ways.
Thornber: That’s hot enough to burn the hair off the top of your eyebrows. … and you certainly kinda get red cheeks after that… that was a hot one. Temperature’s about 1150 degrees C… that’s what? … 2100 F. That’s a lot hotter than you can get your kitchen oven, that’s for sure. And it’s hot, the air’s hot. The air’s over 600 degrees going into there, so you’re walking into an oven. …hard to get good samples… but when you need ‘em, you get ‘em. We always get our samples, don’t we, Tim?
The composition of the lava can tell them how and where it was formed.
Thornber: Come on, quench. Alright…you got the time? Tim Orr: It is 14:06.
It can also help in forecasting changes in the eruption.
Tiny fragments of lava reveal Kilauea’s deepest secrets.
Thornber: We try to get a sample as close to the vent every week… as close to the vent as we can get. So we get a feel for the long-term changes. Whether the eruption’s gonna stop or continue, so we get a much better handle on what’s gonna happen next.
Figuring out Kilauea’s next moves isn’t easy. The volcano is always changing… and seemingly inexhaustible.
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