Hawaii volcano: Vog forecasting critical during new Kilauea eruption

Kīlauea Caldera: Dome fountain formed at lava lake inlet

The tail-end of 2020 witnessed reinvigorated volcanic eruptions at Hawaii’s Kilauea. The volcanic activity has injected new impetus to the University of Hawaii’s Vog Measurement and Prediction (VMAP) Project.

This is an attempt to create real-time forecasts of dispersion and trajectories of volcanic smog, more commonly known as vog.

Vog is formed when sulphur dioxide gas interacts with oxygen, sunlight, water vapour, among other atmospheric elements.

This is known to produce visible sulphate aerosols capable of lingering for days on end.

This is an alarming development since vog can adversely affect health, in addition to diminishing visibility for aviation.

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Data supplied by the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory (HVO) indicates emission rates of up to 30,000 tons of sulphur dioxide is currently being generated daily.

This is significantly more than the 2,000 tons daily recorded just two years ago, before the eruption of the Lower East Rift Zone.

Steven Businger, a professor in the UH Mānoa Department of Atmospheric Sciences and the project’s joint head, warned locals to take care.

He said: “Sulphur dioxide is expected to be the main problem in areas near the vent, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Pāhala, Na’alehu, Hawaiian Ocean View Estates; and sulphate aerosol is expected to be the main problem at locations far from the vent, Kona and farther north and west.

“The islands of Maui, Lāna’i, Molokaʻi, Oʻahu and Kauaʻi will be impacted when and if the large-scale surface winds blow from the southeast.”

Professor Businger and atmospheric sciences researcher Lacey Holland recently received a funding boost to improve vog forecasts in recognition of the danger to health it poses.

The boost should result in innovative new methods to alert locals to dangerous vog levels, such as smartphone push notifications.

Experts at the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory detected a glow within the Halemaʻumaʻu crater at Kīlauea Volcano’s summit, indicating an eruption was already brewing within the caldera.

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Water in the nearby lake swiftly evaporated away during the gushing eruption.

Vents continue to spew lava, which is dramatically pooling into an ever-expanding lava lake at the crater’s base.

USGS volcanologists have now shared an incredible new video of the resulting lava dome fountain that formed in the lava lake.

The USGS said in a statement: ”Lava from the western vent cascades beneath roofed vertical channels to enter the lava lake at an inlet that has become partially submerged.

“The result is a rolling upwelling of lava near the inlet called a ‘dome fountain.”

The lava feature earned its unusual name from its vague resemblance to a bubbling water fountain.

USGS experts have estimated the fountain to be approximately 16ft (5m) in height and 33ft (10m) across.

Mount Kilauea’s last eruption on note occurred in 2018, which the destruction of buildings and locals fleeing for their lives.

According to the latest USGS update, the current lava activity at Kilauea remains confined to the crater.

The lava lake is believed to be 627ft (191m) deep, replacing all the water present prior to the recent eruption.

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